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Joe Biden says that if he were president, he would require people to wear masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.
As coronavirus case counts soar in 30 states and hit record levels nationally, a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that two-thirds of Americans now share Biden’s position — even as Republicans, and President Trump, continue to oppose it.
“The one thing we do know, these masks make a gigantic difference,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said Thursday (while sporting a mask himself). “I would insist that everybody in public be wearing that mask.”
The survey, which was conducted June 24 and 25, before Biden made his position known, found that a full 65 percent of Americans now agree that masking up in public should be mandatory. That’s 10 percentage points higher than the number of Americans (55 percent) who said in a May 22 Yahoo News/YouGov poll that the government should require “social distancing measures such as wearing masks in stores.”
Yet support for mandatory mask measures — which one study estimates have already prevented as many as 450,000 COVID-19 cases in the states that have enacted them — breaks sharply along partisan lines. While 86 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents back the idea, most Republicans (54 percent) oppose it. Among those who intend to vote for Trump in November, the number who say masks should not be mandatory is even higher: 63 percent.
Sixteen states currently recommend, but do not require, that residents wear masks in public. In those states — including Texas and Arizona — new coronavirus cases have risen by 84 percent over the last two weeks, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer analysis. In the 11 states that mandate wearing masks in public — including New York, Illinois and Michigan — new cases have fallen by 25 percent over the last two weeks.
The political divide over a nonpartisan public health precaution is clearly shaping personal behavior. Republicans (31 percent) are now half as likely as Democrats (64 percent) to say they “always” wear masks when leaving home — and six times as likely (18 percent vs. 3 percent) to say they “never” wear them. Likewise, just 41 percent of Republicans say they always practice social distancing in public, compared with 63 percent of Democrats. And while the vast majority of Democrats (87 percent) and independents (66 percent) think people without COVID-19 symptoms should still be “staying home as much as possible,” most Republicans (53 percent) disagree, arguing that they ought to be “resuming their normal activities” instead. Most Republicans (53 percent) also think it’s safe for presidential candidates to resume holding rallies.
In fact, a majority of those who intend to vote for Trump (55 percent) say states where coronavirus cases are increasing “significantly” should not reimplement stay-at-home orders to prevent the virus from spreading; 39 percent of Trump voters even say they would not comply with such an order were it enacted.
Most Americans, however, disagree, with a full 73 percent supporting renewed stay-at-home orders in states with significant spread. A similar number have started to blame this month’s resurgence of COVID-19 across the South and West on lax personal behavior, with 70 percent agreeing that “the virus is spreading more because people are taking fewer precautions (such as staying six feet apart and wearing masks)” and only 30 percent buying Trump’s erroneous argument that the virus isn’t spreading more and we’re simply finding more cases because we’re testing more people.
The public’s rejection of the president’s positions on masks and testing reflects a deepening dissatisfaction with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic — and of his presidency in general.
A majority of registered voters (55 percent) now say Trump deserves most (40 percent) or some (15 percent) of the blame for the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. The same percentage disapproves of the president’s coronavirus response, with 44 percent “strongly” disapproving; only 39 percent approve. A majority of Americans (51 percent) say Trump does not have “the competence to carry out the job of the president,” compared with 41 percent for Biden.
The former vice president is not without weaknesses. Only 19 percent of Americans describe him as “energetic”; only 14 percent describe him as “inspiring.” More people believe Biden says “what people want to hear” (46 percent) than “what he believes” (35 percent); for Trump, the numbers are reversed (37 percent vs. 52 percent). A full 17 percent remain unsure about Biden’s competence. And although Biden, 77, and Trump, 74, are essentially tied when it comes to questions about their “health and mental acuity” — 48 percent say they are very or somewhat concerned about Biden, vs. 46 percent for Trump — a full 81 percent of those who intend to vote for Trump describe their vote as “a vote for Donald Trump,” compared with only 45 percent of Biden voters who say their vote is “a vote for Joe Biden.”
The problem for Trump is that right now, this enthusiasm among his base is more than outweighed by the broader electorate’s growing antagonism toward him. A full 55 percent of Biden voters, for instance, describe their vote as “a vote against Donald Trump.” In part as a result, Trump now trails Biden among registered voters by 8 points, 39 percent to 47 percent.
To reverse those numbers and win reelection in November, the president will likely have to improve perceptions of his response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, Trump taped a town-hall-style interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity in Green Bay, Wis. The network required all attendees to wear masks. The president, as usual, was maskless.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,507 U.S. adult residents interviewed online June 24-25, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education, as well as 2016 presidential vote, registration status, geographic region and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S residents. The margin of error is approximately 3.6 percent.
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