It has become obvious since that the president has no intention of wearing a mask in public, if at all. At events more recently, even as White House staff have been advised to wear masks, Trump has declined to do so. He has offered various excuses — everyone got tested, it was windy — but the end result is the same: no mask.
For some of his supporters, this approach to wearing a mask has been wrapped into general opposition to efforts to fight the virus, most obviously in the protests against stay-at-home orders in various states. The impression one gets is of a broad Republican pushback against the recommendations being offered by government agencies. It’s an impression, in fact, that Trump has at times fostered, including in arguing that there was broad demand to reopen the economy.
That impression, though, is mostly wrong.
Not entirely wrong, mind you. There’s still a partisan divide in approaches to combating the virus. It’s just less overwhelming than you might expect.
Consider a poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland released Wednesday. That poll found expectations about when it would be safe to hold gatherings of 10 people or more have slipped since April — when most Americans figured such events could be held by the end of June. Now, two-thirds of respondents think it will be July or later.
There is a split by party here: A little over half of Republicans think that it won’t be until July that this happens, compared to 80 percent of Democrats. But notice the shift in the past month. Among members of both parties, there was a 50-point shift in expectations about when large gatherings would again be possible.
Again, contrary to the public perception, most Republicans see this particular constraint lasting more than another month. In general, Republicans see their communities as handling the effort to contain the virus appropriately. The percentage of Republicans who think people in their communities are taking things too seriously is not significantly different from the percentage of Democrats who think so.
Republicans are less likely than Democrats or independents to see a number of measures aimed at containing the virus as necessary. But on all four of the measures about which The Post asked, most Republicans concur that the efforts are necessary. In most cases, at least two-thirds of Republicans agree that the measure is necessary.
A separate poll released by Gallup on Wednesday shows Republicans are generally less likely to wear masks. Or, at least, that they haven’t done so as frequently in the past week. That said, most Republicans (grouped together with Republican-leaning independents by Gallup) indicated they had worn a mask, at least sometimes.
The divide in mask-wearing identified by Gallup didn’t only break down along party lines. Between Democrats (and Democrat-leaning independents) and Republicans/leaners, the difference was 29 points. Those who trust journalists a lot were 23 points more likely than those who don’t trust journalists as much to wear a mask at least sometimes. Those who trust scientists a lot were 25 points more likely to wear a mask. Those who are heavy news consumers were 16 points more likely to wear a mask at least sometimes than those who pay less attention to the news.
Those differences may overlap with party to some extent. But it reinforces that the divide isn’t just about partisanship.
On Tuesday evening, after the country’s leading epidemiologist, Anthony S. Fauci, testified that reopening the economy too quickly could cause a spike in deaths, several of the hosts of Fox News’s prime-time shows attacked Fauci directly. Host Tucker Carlson called Fauci “the chief buffoon of the professional class.” This builds on weeks of bolstering Trump’s skepticism about containment efforts and weeks of downplaying the risk posed by the virus.
While Fox News is the most popular network among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, its reach isn’t as wide as you might suspect. A Pew Research Center poll conducted late last year found about 6 in 10 Republicans and leaners had used Fox as a source of news in the past week.
About a third of Republicans said the network was their main source of election news. A third of Republicans also said they had received political or election news from Trump or his campaign in the preceding week.
Those numbers diverge widely from Democrats, unsurprisingly, but they also indicate 4 in 10 Republicans may not use Fox News as source of information — and, therefore, are less likely to have been exposed to the network’s repeated harangues about how governments are approaching the coronavirus.
The cartoon XKCD made a point of highlighting the broad consensus on these measures despite how Trump and his media allies portray the situation.
People are more supportive of the necessity of wearing masks than they are of kittens. That’s not a sign of an unbroachable partisan divide.