Just 37% of U.S. adults say they’re bothered when people around them in public don’t wear masks, a drop of 35 percentage points since 2020, according to a survey published Wednesday by Pew Research Group reflecting increasingly relaxed attitudes toward masking among both Republicans and Democrats.
The proportion of people who said they were bothered when others didn’t mask in public fell from 55% in November 2020 to 18% in May 2022 among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and from 87% to 52% among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, Pew found.
However, most Americans are still happy to mask up when businesses ask them to—the proportion of Americans bothered when businesses require masking shifted slightly from 28% in November 2020 to 32% in May 2022, rising from 36% to 52% among Republicans and falling slightly from 20% to 16% among Democrats.
The proportion of Americans who wore masks all or most of the time while in businesses plunged from 61% in January’s omicron surge to 30% in May, reflecting a dramatic decline in Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths over that period.
Though mask-wearing behavior remains highly polarized, both Republicans and Democrats have masked less since the initial omicron surge subsided—Pew found mask-wearing in businesses fell from 79% in January to 42% in May among Democrats and from 39% to 14% among Republicans.
Pew found extreme division over the question of mask mandates for transport—57% of U.S. adults said masks should be required on planes and public transport, including 80% of Democrats and 29% of Republicans.
Pew surveyed 10,282 U.S. adults from May 2-8.
A Quinnipiac University poll published last month found that just 46% of Americans support an airplane mask mandate, indicating that the public may be close to evenly divided on the issue. Like Pew, Quinnipiac found an extreme partisan split: 80% of Democratic respondents said planes should have mask mandates, compared to 14% of Republican respondents.
Americans’ attitudes toward Covid-19 response measures have relaxed with the emergence of the contagious but less severe omicron variant and the decline in Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths since January’s surge. Last month, a federal judge struck down the federal government’s mask mandate for planes and public transport, following which the Transport Security Administration reported a 50% increase in Covid-19 infections among its workers in just two weeks. It’s also possible that another national Covid-19 surge is in the works: the seven-day average of Covid-19 infections has risen by 152% over the past month, and former Trump Administration pandemic response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx has warned that a spike in infections across the southern U.S. is likely this summer, based on an analysis of infection patterns in other countries. In April 2021, there was a minor Covid-19 surge in the U.S., followed by a period “where everybody thought it was over” and then another surge in August and September, a pattern which could repeat itself this year, Birx said.
“Judge Declares Federal Public Transportation Mask Mandate Unlawful” (Forbes)