Why Americans Say They Are, or Aren’t, Wearing Face Masks

As U.S. coronavirus case numbers and deaths continue toclimb, face masks have become the center of a heated political debate. 

While most American adults said they had used a mask while in public spaces within the last month, there were differences across partisan, generational and geographic lines, according to new polling data.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the wearing of masks in public places. Their use has been found to helplimit the spread of the coronavirus. “Please, please, pleasewear a face covering when you go out in public,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said earlier this week.

President Donald Trump, however, has largely resisted wearing a mask even when he stands near others. He’sstill not convinced they should be required, he said in an television interview this week, but added that Americans should “do what makes you feel good.”

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Despite Trump’s ambivalence, about two-thirds of U.S. adults told Pew Research Center the wore a maskall or most of the time when in public. In total, 80% of 9,654 respondents said they wore masks at least some of the time in a survey conducted between June 4 and 10.

There was, however, a “big partisan divide,” said Ruth Igielnik, a senior researcher at Pew. While 88% of Democrats reported wearing a mask at least some of the time, just 72% of Republicans said the same.

Age and geography also impacted mask wearing behaviors, Pew found. Older Americans were more likely to say they had worn a mask all or most of the time, regardless of political affiliation. And in highly affected areas, 62% of people wore masks all or most of the time, compared with 33% in the least impacted parts of the country. 

The poll was the first in which Pew inquired about face masks, making it impossible to determine whether their use is trending up or down, Igielnik said.

A survey conducted by Morning Consult between June 9 and 12 gave respondents an open-ended opportunity to explain why they did or did not use masks. According to their analysis, about three-quarters of respondents who wore masks said they did so to protect themselves and others, with another 6% saying they did so because it was required.

Just 11% of the 2,197 people sampled said they did not wear masks. The top reasons given fell into roughly three categories: People did not think they were effective against the virus; said they were already social distancing; or that they found them to be uncomfortable. 

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