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Most Respondents Favor Requiring Face Masks In Public, Survey Shows

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A new survey shows a majority of respondents favor requiring people to wear face masks in public. But a large portion says the responses to the pandemic could be worse than the disease.

The Sunshine State Survey was done by the University of South Florida and Nielsen, to get the public's reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. USF Assistant Professor Joshua Scacco says one of the big surprises is nearly eight in 10 people support the state requiring the use of facemasks.

"We've all seen, either in social media or in the news, individuals complaining or screaming or protesting about wearing face masks or businesses closing, those types of things," he said. "And what we've seen is widespread support among the individuals surveyed for face masks."

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And the survey says more people trust local government's response to the pandemic, followed by the state and federal governments. Scacco says that probably supports the old adage that government that is closest to the people governs best.

"What we see is that individuals have a general affinity for their local leaders, because they're the closest to them. And because of that, we see some of that, you see that bleed over here to support for what local government leaders are doing as well as trust in the information that's being provided," he said. "As government gets further from our local communities, what we see is drops in the approval of the handling of the of the crisis, as well as drops in the trust and information that's being provided.

"So this is, I think, a good sign for local governments that have stepped up in this particular process that have done things like implement text message alerts, and automated phone calls and put information on websites and social media to help educate individuals. "

The second biggest surprise, he says, is the large number of people turning in to the governor's and president's press conferences on the pandemic. More than 60 percent of those surveyed said they got a lot of information from that.

And the third takeway is the numbers of people - 4 in 10 Floridians - is that the response might be worse than the disease.

"So local, state and federal leaders need to be thinking about not only the legitimate health concerns that people have related to the virus, but also the economic weight that individuals are dealing with currently related to the crisis, as well," Scacco said.

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Here's the results of the survey:

Public concern remains high.A majority agree with a statement that they are personally concerned (52.2%) or are concerned about someone they know (76.6%) contracting the novel coronavirus in the next three months.

Public concerns are justified, but worries remain about response.While a near universal number of respondents (86.5%) agree that public concern related to the coronavirus is justified, worries also persist about the public reaction. Four in 10 individuals surveyed agree that public reactions to the pandemic will do more harm than the disease itself.

Strong support for statewide mitigation policies, including face mask requirements.Healthy majorities of individuals surveyed report support for the state closing restaurants and bars (88.9%), limiting public gatherings (94.3%), limiting gatherings in houses of worship (87.4%), issuing “stay at home” orders (86.2%), closing beaches and other public recreation areas (81.6%), fining individuals who violate “stay at home” orders (62.2%), instituting nightly curfews (62.9%) and requiring individuals to wear masks in public places (79.3%).

State and local governments gain more approval and trust than the federal government’s response. A plurality of Floridians (48.9%) approve of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Approval of the federal response is 2.5% lower than state government and 20% lower than local government. A majority of individuals surveyed (54.9%) also trust the federal government “a great deal” or a “good amount” to provide accurate information about the pandemic. Trust in federal information is 8.3% lower than that for state government, and 21.7% lower than that for local government.

Majority approve of and trust the state government’s response.A majority of Floridians (51.5%) approve of state government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Almost two-thirds of individuals surveyed (63.1%) also trust state government “a great deal” or a “good amount” to provide accurate information about the novel coronavirus situation.

Robust approval and trust in local government response.Nearly seven in 10 Floridians surveyed (68.8%) approve of their local government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Greater than three-quarters of Floridians (76.6%) also trust their local government “a great deal” or a “good amount” to provide accurate information about the novel coronavirus situation.

Partisan differences emerge on trust and approval.Registered Democrats are significantly more likely to disapprove (52%) of the federal response to the COVID-19 situation, compared with 10% of Republicans and 35% of Independents/Third Party identifiers. Similarly, 44% of Democrats disapproved of the state government’s response, compared with 11% of Republicans and 32% of Independents/Third Party identifiers.

The president’s and governor’s press conferences matter.Two-thirds of Floridians (66.3%) say the president’s daily press conferences in April were a source of “a lot” or “some” information about the novel coronavirus situation. Greater than six in 10 Floridians (61.4%) report the same about the governor’s daily press conferences in April.

The survey of 600 Floridians was fielded April 15-24, 2020, and the results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error +/-4.  

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.