Research conducted by us at Redfield & Wilton Strategies in July shows that over half of American voters (52%) say they always wear a mask when leaving their home. Compared to European countries, we found that self-reported mask adoption in the US is lower than that in Italy and Spain, but significantly higher than in France and Germany.
As for American respondents who do not always wear a face mask when they leave their home, a further 20% report wearing a mask most of the time, 15% say they wear one sometimes and 7% say they wear one rarely, compared to 6% of respondents who report never wearing a mask when leaving their home, suggesting that the vast majority of Americans do, at least, take some effort to wear a mask where appropriate.
Two elements stand out from our findings:
First, is that regulations and, also, disparities in the way the coronavirus hit a certain country matter when looking at mask adoption. At an international level, we asked a similar question to European respondents in late June and found that 63% of Spaniards and 56% of Italians answered that they always wear a mask when leaving their home against just 31% of French and 27% of Germans. Divergences in Europe reflected the degree of stringency in legislation surrounding masks, with Spain imposing the strictest measures. Such divergences also reflected the differing impact of the coronavirus across the continent with southern countries comparatively more affected than northern ones.
At a domestic level, we found that respondents who live in the North East (61%) and the Western (61%) parts of the United States report higher mask usage than those living in the Midwest (39%). Such disparity could be a reflection of the harsh impact of the virus in states like New York or California, but it likely also reflects that certain states have stricter guidelines on masks than others. At the same time, however, it may be a product of an urban-rural division, with urban and densely populated areas more vulnerable to the viral spread of a pandemic than rural areas.
Second, and perhaps more interestingly, we found throughout our survey that face mask adoption is somewhat determined by politics, with likely Trump voters less likely to cover their mouth and nose with a mask than likely Biden voters (but still more likely than unlikely to report wearing masks, in any case).
Indeed, only a plurality of the respondents who intend to vote for Trump in November answered that they always cover their mouth when leaving their home (42%) in contrast to a strong majority of the respondents who intend to vote for Biden (63%).
Political polarization over masks was particularly noticeable at Trump’s June 20th rally in Tulsa where mask usage was incredibly minimal among supporters. By contrast, Democratic nominee Joe Biden stated that he would make masks compulsory in public, if elected. This past weekend, however, President Donald Trump was seen wearing a face mask for the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic while visiting the Walter Reed National Medical Center outside Washington D.C. On this occasion, the President, who had been ambivalent on masks, said, “I’ve never been against masks, but I do believe they have a time and a place.”
Local governments, such as the City of Cambridge in Massachusetts or Pensacola in Florida, have already required mask usage in public areas at the penalty of a fine. Likewise, companies such as Starbucks or Uber require customers to wear masks when entering their enclosed spaces across the United States. When it comes to mask usage in indoor spaces, respondents are again divided by voting intention, with only 48% of likely Trump voters saying they wear masks in supermarkets compared to 70% of likely Biden voters.
Mask adoption rates vary between different activities. When meeting with people they know in outdoor settings, respondents were less likely to consider themselves at risk of catching coronavirus, with only 29% of respondents reporting to always wear a mask when meeting with a friend outside. Likewise, only 30% of respondents answered that they always wear a mask when entering any home other than the one in which they live in. Respondents are also overall less likely to always wear a mask when walking in the park (25%), likely because of the reduced proximity to others and the open-air setting.
Altogether, self-reported mask usage in the United States is high. As pessimism surrounding the coronavirus situation in the United States increases and following the President’s own tacit endorsement of masks this past weekend, mask usage may become even higher.