Poll: Utah Republican voters mostly see wearing a mask as a sign of respect, not weakness

Utah voters likely to vote in the June 30 Republican primary overwhelmingly see wearing a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic as a sign of respect, not of weakness — though far fewer wear one all the time they’re out in public.

That’s one takeaway from a new poll conducted by Suffolk University for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Of the 500 respondents polled June 4-7, 73% said they thought wearing a face mask in public was a sign of respect. Only 10% considered it a sign of weakness, and 17% were undecided.

However, only 35% of the poll respondents said they themselves always wear a mask when out in public. Another 20% said they often wear one in public, 24% said they sometimes do, and 21% said they never do.

The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, plus or minus.

“Two words: Common sense,” said one poll respondent, Lidia DiLello, 58, of Park City, about why she always wears a mask in public. “It doesn’t take much to read about it to know that wearing a mask makes sense.”

It’s respectful to wear a mask, she said, because “you are allowing [others] to be healthy. You are allowing them to help protect themselves and, quite honestly, you’re giving yourself respect and giving your family respect by not bringing it back into your family.”

Mike Waterfall, 61, of Ogden, another respondent, said he sometimes wears a mask in public — usually when he goes into a business where there will be a fair number of people.

“If I wear a mask, I’m protecting others from the virus,” said Waterfall, who added that he sees mask-wearing as a sign of respect. “It helps me; it helps them.”

Self-described liberal and moderate GOP primary voters were far more likely to say they wear masks than conservatives. Just 26% of conservatives said they always wear masks out in public, compared to majorities for moderates and liberals. Twenty-eight percent of conservatives said they never wear masks, while less than 10% of liberal and moderate respondents answered that way.

Still, 69% of conservatives viewed mask wearing as a sign of respect compared to 12% who saw it as weakness. Among moderates and liberals, 80%-plus said it was a sign of respect while less than 10% saw it as weakness.

Among the women polled, 77% said wearing a mask was a sign of respect, while 9% found it a weakness, and 14% were undecided. For men, 69% called it a sign of respect, 11% a sign of weakness, and 19% were undecided.

Women are more likely to wear masks than men. In the poll, 38% said they always wear them, compared to 32% of the men. On the other end of the question, 26% of the men surveyed say they never wear a mask, while 17% of the women never wear them.

Younger respondents, 18 to 34, and older ones, 55 and above, more often said they wore masks than those in between. For folks 65 and older, 43% said they always wear masks; 37% of those between 55 and 64 said they always do; and 37% of the 18 to 34 group said they always wear them. Only 24% of the 35 to 44 group, and 29% of the 45 to 54 group, said they always wear them.

There was a significant split between residents of Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous county, and the rest of Utah.

In the poll, 49% of Salt Lake County residents said they always wear a mask in public, 17% said they wore one often, 19% said they wore a mask sometimes, and 15% said they never wore one. For the rest of the state, only 29% say they always wear a mask; 21% said they wear one often; 26% said they wear a mask sometimes; and 24% said they never wear a mask.

Utah is “working to establish mask wearing as a new social norm, and it is up to each of us to help normalize this behavior,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist. “It’s a simple gesture people can make when out in public to show support and demonstrate caring for those around them. … If everyone who sees wearing a mask as a sign of respect wears a mask when social distancing isn’t possible, it could have a huge impact on COVID-19 spread in Utah.”

Wearing a face mask has been recommended by health experts — and Utah leaders— as one way to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Gary Herbert strongly urged Utahns to wear them back in April, invoking one of his favorite Western heroes: “Like Tonto said to the Lone Ranger: ‘Never take off the mask.’”

Dunn noted that the state has bought 2.5 million masks and is distributing them, for free, to any Utahn who asks for one by going online to coronavirus.utah.gov/mask.

Health care workers use medical-grade masks and respirators to block the spread of the coronavirus. Civilians are urged to wear cloth masks, which aren’t as effective as medical-grade equipment, but can catch droplets expelled from the mouth and nose while breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing.

Whether to wear a mask has become a bone of contention in American politics.

President Donald Trump, who famously refuses to wear a mask, last month mocked a masked reporter at a White House news conference, saying “you want to be politically correct.” Trump’s presumptive election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, wore a mask at a Memorial Day appearance in Delaware, and later told a CNN reporter that Trump was “an absolute fool” for criticizing mask wearers.

At a June 1 debate of Republicans running for the chance to unseat Utah Democrat Ben McAdams as the 4th District’s representative in Congress, three of the four candidates did not wear masks.

“I believe it’s a choice,” said nonprofit executive Trent Christensen. “I don’t have a problem with masks. What I do have a problem with is being told I have to wear a mask.”

Utah House member Kim Coleman said she tries to “respect the distance” of others in public, while former NFL player Burgess Owens said it’s up to private businesses to decide whether they want their customers to wear masks on the premises.

Only Jay McFarland, the former radio host, wore a mask at the debate. “Part of exercising personal liberty is to do so responsibly,” McFarland said. “What happened to love thy neighbor? What happened to civil respect for other people?”