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Think Americans Are Polarized Over Reopening, Face Masks? Survey Says Think Again


Here’s something that might surprise you: A new national survey shows that regardless of political affiliation, Americans mostly agree on how to reopen the economy during the coronavirus pandemic—slowly—and with protective measures like face masks.

Indiana, for example, is currently in “phase 3” of its “Indiana Back on Track” plan, allowing for gatherings of up to 100 people who follow social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jeff Granskog, a 55-year-old Republican from northern Indiana, says he agrees with the plan.

“I think that so far what they've been doing in our area has been probably right on target of what they should be doing,” he says. “Not immediate but getting us warmed up for what we do to keep everybody safe.”

He thinks businesses should decide what’s best for them when it comes to balancing public health and reopening. 

“It’s gotta be a combination of the two,” Granskog says. “We can't shut down the economy for an indefinite amount of time.” 

This national survey from Public Agenda, USA Today and Ipsos Hidden Common Ground included about 1,000 people. The majority, regardless of political affiliation, support measures like wearing masks, self-quarantining if exposed to the virus, and having stores and restaurants require social distancing. 

“I think it's very easy to imagine that there's a lot of polarization among the public on how to address the virus—and there are certainly differences of opinion,” says David Schleifer, director of research at Public Agenda. “But I just don't see this really stark polarization, certainly not on how to reopen.” 

As for face masks, the survey found that 77 percent of the respondents—as well as a majority of each political party—support wearing masks in public. 

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“It just may be that instances where people object to wearing face coverings or object to other people wearing face coverings they probably stand out a lot, but they may not really be as common as we might think,” Schleifer says. 

Shayla Franek, 32, is a Democrat who lives in Fargo, North Dakota. She says a majority of people are abiding by the stay-at-home orders and wearing masks. The most difficult thing for people in Fargo? All the bars are closed. 

Credit Photo contributed by Shayla Franek.
Shayla Franek, 32, lives in Fargo, North Dakota.

“I know that's frustrating for people out here because there's not a lot to do besides drink,” she says, laughing. “I miss hanging out with my friends going out… However, I would rather not feel like I'm dying for the next two weeks and not able to breathe.” 

She wears a mask when necessary, but limits going out because the mask fogs her glasses and triggers panic attacks. 

“I do wear the mask when I go into public… but I do it for the good of everyone else,” she says. 

Few Americans are looking to the federal government on guidance during this crisis, according to the survey. Most think state governments should decide when and how to reopen the economy. Republicans are more likely to think individuals or businesses should take the lead.

Democrat Royce Moody is a 66-year-old retired veteran living outside Indianapolis. He says he’s been frustrated with the lack of obedience around stay-at-home orders and social distancing. 

“We felt threatened at times because people refuse to wear their mask,” Moody says. “Some people want to creep up on you. We didn't like that.”

Credit Photo contributed by Royce Moody.
Royce Moody and his wife live in a suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Moody says this behavior makes him concerned about a possible second wave of the virus. He thinks Indiana should remain under a stay-at-home order, but like many surveyed, agrees that decisions should fall to state leaders. 

“I don't like the way the federal government's tried to run things,” Moody says. “It's different from one state to the next. So I think it should be given to the governors to decide how to open it up.” 

Most people think the government’s main focus should be preventing the spread of the virus. But almost a third of Americans are now prioritizing keeping the economy strong over keeping people from getting sick or dying. Republicans were much more likely to support this measure. 

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Virologist Rama Ramani, 56, lives in rural upstate New York. A self-described moderate, like many people, she supports a gradual reopening. 

“It should not be like completely back to shut again, I think we should open slowly,” Ramani says. “So that the economy is always coming up, people are not getting bogged inside their house and, you know, people are working and being productive.” 

Ramani agrees with survey results showing that some of the divisions between Americans appear to be overblown. She says all this public friction is not productive. 

“Overall, I think people should come together and not divide at this time of crisis,” she says. “America is a great country and we should keep it as a great country by not fighting and infighting rather than uniting and working towards a common goal.”

Behind this story

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between May 22-26, 2020, on behalf of Public Agenda and USA Today. The survey had a sample of roughly 1,004 adults 18 and older.

This story was produced by America Amplified, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. America Amplified is using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. It was developed in partnership with Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health. 

For this story, Side Effects Public Media and America Amplified partnered with the Hidden Common Ground Initiative, spearheaded by Public Agenda and USA Today, along with the National Issues Forums and Ipsos. The initiative challenges the dominant narrative of a hopelessly divided America by identifying areas of common ground and looking for solutions to politically polarizing issues. 

Follow America Amplified on Twitter at @amplified2020. Follow Hidden Common Ground at @PublicAgenda.

Carter is a reporter for Side Effects Public Media and WFYI in Indianapolis. She can be reached at