Poll: Mask-wearing divisions remain even as coronavirus cases spike

Democrats, nonwhites and elderly Americans are more likely to say they wear masks every time they leave home, a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll shows.
Image: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks in the Brighton Beach section of the Brooklyn,
A woman wearing a mask walks in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 21.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

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By Ben Kamisar and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — Democrats, nonwhites and elderly Americans are all significantly more likely to say they wear protective masks every time they leave home, new polling data show, as measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus continue to be polarized and case counts in the U.S. reach new heights.

The new NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll found that 97 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democratic say they wear masks at least most of the time when they leave their homes and might be in contact with others (86 percent say they wear masks "every time," while 11 percent say they do so "most of the time").

Seventy percent of Republicans and those who lean Republican say the same (48 percent say "every time" and 22 percent say "most of the time").

Among independents, 71 percent say they wear masks "every time" they leave home and might be in contact with others, while 18 percent say they wear masks "most of the time."

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Overall, a strong majority of adults say they regularly wear masks. Sixty-eight percent of adults say they wear masks "every time" they leave home and may be in contact with others, 16 percent say they do so "most of the time," 10 percent say they wear masks "some of the time," and just 5 percent say "never."

There's also a clear division along racial lines. Eighty percent of nonwhite Americans say they wear masks "every time" they're in public spaces with others, including 82 percent of Blacks, 82 percent of Asians and 81 percent of Hispanics. That's compared with 61 percent of whites who say the same.

And the difference extends to generational divides. Seventy-five percent of those over age 65 said they wear masks every time they leave home — in every other age subgroup, people are 64 percent to 69 percent likely to say the same. Those ages 35 to 54 are least likely to wear masks every time they leave home.

The new data show that the political divide over the issue persists as the White House seeks to shift its messaging on masks as cases spike across the U.S. Cases have topped 4.2 million, and over 147,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended since April that people wear masks when they are unable to maintain social distancing. But President Donald Trump balked at wearing masks for months before finally urging Americans to adopt the practice — and donning a mask himself — in recent days.

In May, Trump even mocked presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden for wearing a mask outside his home. And as recently as two weeks ago, he said he disagreed with CDC Director Robert Redfield over how effectively mask-wearing curbs the virus because masks "cause problems, too."

However, Trump struck a decidedly different tone last week when he tweeted that wearing masks was "patriotic" and said during a news conference that "we're asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask."

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The new poll shows that throughout the pandemic, adults have mainly left their homes only for necessary activities like grocery shopping — numbers that largely haven't budged since the poll began earlier this month.

A majority, 54 percent, say they've left home in the past day to go grocery shopping, with 43 percent having done so for a walk, to get some fresh air or to go to work.

But just 21 percent said they left home to exercise, and 16 percent say they left home to eat at restaurants or bars, numbers that come as many states struggle to decide whether to keep indoor spaces open amid concerns of the virus' airborne spread.

The data come from a set of SurveyMonkey online polls conducted July 20-26, 2020, among a national sample of 46,450 adults in the U.S. Respondents were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform every day. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 1.0 percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education and geography using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States ages 18 and over.