Poll: Strong majorities in both parties say they're wearing masks around other people most of the time

Intriguing data from HuffPost that raises the question: Is there really a culture war over masks?

There’s a divide over mask-wearing between Democrats and Republicans, no doubt. And there’s a lingering gender divide, with men notably less likely to wear masks for fear that they’ll be seen as weak if they don’t boldly spray their plague germs into the faces of old ladies at the grocery store. But the divides aren’t as sharp as you might think from activist political media, where mask-wearing is socialism or whatever.

Encouraging results here:

Majorities in both parties say mask-wearing is more a matter of public health than a personal choice, although Democrats (76/20) are more likely to say so than Republicans (51/42). Women in both parties are more likely than men to say they always wear a mask when around others, but large majorities of both sexes say they view wearing a mask as an act of respect towards those around them rather than as a sign of weakness.

Although there is one particular group that’s a little more stubborn about that than everyone else:

Twenty percent of Republican men also say they consider wearing a face mask in public near others to be a sign of weakness, compared to just 6% of Republican women (and similarly single-digit shares of Democrats across gender) who say the same. Even within that group, however, it’s still the minority position. By contrast, a 62% majority of GOP men say mask-wearing shows respect, and more than half say they consider it a matter of public health.

Most Republican men are thinking clearly about this despite dopey, reckless agitation against mask-wearing from some precincts of populist media. There’s no culture war over masks. Yet.

Quinnipiac asked about masks in its poll yesterday too. Republicans don’t like mandates of any sort and so it’s no surprise that a majority oppose mandatory mask-wearing, but 40 percent is a surprisingly large minority in favor. And note that Republicans and white men (a core Republican constituency) are the only demographic groups listed to oppose mandating masks.

Majorities of all three partisan groups said that most people they see nowadays are wearing masks. And 67 percent overall said Trump should wear a mask when he’s out in public, although most Republicans opposed that idea.

What does mask-wearing get us? The evidence is mostly circumstantial but here’s an interesting comparison from Cuomo’s latest numbers on antibody testing. The sort of public and private employees in NYC whom you’d most expect to wear masks because they’re at the greatest risk of infection actually have lower rates of infection than the general public.

If you want to disregard the numbers for health-care workers on grounds that some are wearing full PPE, not just masks, fair enough. But it’s mind-boggling that transit workers are less likely to have had COVID-19 than the average New Yorker is. Best guess as to why: Transit workers are hyperattentive to hygiene precisely because they’re higher-risk, which means more frequent hand-washing — and mask-wearing.

Here’s another interesting number, once again confirming that the “culture war” over masks exists largely on websites and not in reality:

Nate Silver made a smart point about how the trendline there matches up with the recent decline in deaths from COVID-19 nationally. “This timing is interesting insofar as the US data started to look like it was getting a little better as of early May, at least to my eye,” he wrote. “And if you had a big inflection point in mask-wearing in mid-April, that’s when you might expect to see the effects.” As a rough estimate, it takes three weeks to a month for an infection to progress to death; the last day the U.S. topped 2,000 deaths in a day was May 7. It does seem that something improved around mid-April, then, coincidentally around the time that mask-wearing became a majority proposition in the graph above. And remember that the recent model on mask-wearing from Berkeley postulated that it takes a high level of buy-in on wearing masks to dramatically reduce deaths. It can’t be done piecemeal. So maybe Silver’s right that some sort of critical mass was finally reached in the middle of last month to drive deaths down. As masks become even more commonplace, hopefully there’s even more progress to come.

Anyway, it’s time to rebrand the whole practice. Masks — the choice of champions.