Besides social distancing, wearing a mask is one of the best ways to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus. But whether or not people are willing to use one has less to with the pandemic than with their political affiliation, at least in the United States, according to the results of a survey.
The Axios-Ipsos survey on coronavirus showed that there is a growing political divide between Republicans and Democrats on the use of face masks. The percentage of Democrats who said they wear masks all the time when going out went from 49% between April 10 and May 4 to 65% between May 8 and June 22.
On the other hand, not that many Republicans seem to be using a mask when leaving their homes. During the same timeframe, the percentage went from 29% to 35%, according to the survey. This shows a clear political divide among American citizens.
President Donald Trump hasn’t been seen wearing a mask yet and last week told the attendants to a rally in Tulsa to “do what they want” regarding masks, which weren’t mandatory to attend the gathering. Republican governors have also refused to wear masks in public, while Democrats are urging residents to do so amid a surge of cases.
The political gap can actually be traced back to confusing public health messaging on the use of masks when the pandemic was starting. Americans were first told by the government not to purchase masks due to concerns that they could run out, leaving healthcare workers without them.
But such fears were real, according to government virus expert Anthony Fauci. He gave a congressional testimony this week and he said he “didn’t regret” telling people not to buy masks, as the government “didn’t want to take away the masks from health care workers” and wanted to people to stay in their homes as much as possible.
Conservatives who prize individual autonomy over social responsibility experience "a massive pushback of psychological resistance" when presented with mask mandates, Steven Taylor, the author of "The Psychology of Pandemics” told Axios. That reaction is reinforced "if leaders like Trump downplay the significance of COVID-19 or if they won't wear masks,” he added.
The results of the Axios-Ipsos survey illustrate this perfectly. While Republicans in blue states use masks less than Democrats, they wear them at higher rates than Republicans in red states. At the same time, Democrats in red states use masks at lower rates than Democrats in blue states.
If there’s something that can break the political divide, that’s the outbreak itself. Cases are going up in red states such as Arizona and Texas, who had to backtrack the decision to lift the lockdown, closing down bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, in those same states, Google searches for masks are going up.