Florida, of course, is ground zero in the mask wars, to a degree unsurpassed by any state, with the possible exception of Texas. In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has done everything he can to block local officials from implementing mask mandates, sparking a remarkable rebellion, with numerous school districts defying him.
- A plurality of Florida residents believe DeSantis is hurting efforts to slow the spread of covid-19 in the state, 46 percent to 41 percent.
- 73 percent think the spread of covid in the state is a serious problem, 59 percent say the spread is out of control, and 61 percent say it was preventable.
- 60 percent support requiring students, teachers and staff to wear masks in schools, while only 36 percent oppose it. And by 54 percent to 44 percent, Floridians say schools, not parents, should make the decision on masks for kids.
- 59 percent support requiring mask-wearing in indoor spaces, while only 39 percent oppose it.
- 63 percent say the issue of wearing masks is primarily about public health, while only 33 percent say it’s about personal freedom. Meanwhile, 64 percent say they’re effective in slowing covid spread.
- 68 percent say local officials should generally be able to require masks in indoor public spaces.
Large majorities reject just about every aspect of DeSantis’s framing of this public debate. Those majorities not only support mask mandates; they also see them as a matter of public health and a legitimate tool for local officials to employ. They don’t see them as an infringement on freedom, and see them as effective against covid spread, which they view as a problem that is both preventable and that DeSantis has personally made worse.
Putting aside what this means for DeSantis’s reelection prospects, all of this reinforces the idea that, generally speaking, Democrats should be making a much more concerted effort to speak directly to this silent and neglected majority. (Other polls show similar findings nationwide.)
In recent days, the White House has engaged in this battle, at least a little. Biden’s Education Department has signaled that it may use federal power to try to protect communities struggling to defend themselves against covid spread against GOP governors standing in their way.
But some Democrats are wondering, with good reason, why the White House isn’t leaning into this battle harder. Final federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine provides the hook for Biden to engage much more frontally in calling on various actors to step up their efforts against covid, Republican governors included, and in using whatever levers of power he can in that regard.
In addition to the obvious public interest rationale for doing this, there’s also a political one. Sun Belt states such as Florida and Texas are emerging as not just our leading front in the mask and covid wars, but also as places where Democrats are poised to exploit changing demographics to make future political gains.
The political geography of this pits Democrats in fast-growing urban and suburban strongholds against Republican majorities that are hanging on because of their strength in outlying areas that aren’t growing as quickly. As Ronald Brownstein writes, the mix of all these things is previewing the challenges of coming 2022 battles in those places for Democrats:
Strategists across these states recognize that the central test for Democrats is whether they can post continued gains in the largest metropolitan areas, by energizing turnout among non-White and younger voters, but also by making further inroads among the racially diverse, well-educated suburban voters who trended toward them in the Trump years.Many political analysts agree that the Sun Belt Republican governors and legislators are governing in a manner that risks further erosion in those suburban areas.
Remarkable poll findings like these from Quinnipiac underscore the point. Notably, on just about all the questions noted above, strikingly large majorities of suburban voters oppose DeSantis’s positions. All of which suggests Democrats as a party should lean into political combat on covid a lot harder.