Poll: Pennsylvania voters split on party lines when it comes to mask wearing

Gov. Tom Wolf wears a mask during a briefing at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management headquarters in Harrisburg. Source: Commonwealth Media Services.

Nearly one in three Pennsylvania voters say that COVID-19 is the biggest issue facing the state and fear getting very sick and possibly dying if they contract the disease, results from a recent statewide survey show. 

But the poll from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to know someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19 and to change their behaviors to limit its spread in their communities. 

The newest survey findings are based on the results of interviews with 667 registered Pennsylvania voters, conducted between July 20 and July 26. 

The pool of respondents included 324 Democrats, 271 Republicans, and 72 independents, and results were weighted to account for their age, gender, educational attainment, location and party registration. 

The survey found that COVID-19 is the leading issue on Pennsylvanians’ minds in a year that has also seen historic protests against police brutality and a tightly contested presidential election. 

Thirty-two percent of poll respondents said that COVID-19 is the most important issue facing the state. Other pressing issues voters identified include government and politicians (13 percent of respondents), unemployment and personal finances (7 percent), education and schools (6 percent) and taxes (5 percent.)

The poll also found that voters broadly support wearing masks to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, though voters are more reluctant to stay home to achieve the same goal. 

Two-thirds of respondents – 64 percent – said it is “extremely important” to wear a mask when they leave the home. 

Just 43 percent say the same for staying home except for essential activities, such as exercising or getting groceries — a preventative measure that state officials stressed in the early days of the pandemic, even after Gov. Tom Wolf lifted the statewide stay-at-home order he issued in March. 

However, those attitudes vary significantly on race, class and party lines. 

While 88 percent of self-identified liberals and 84 percent of moderates said mask-wearing is extremely important outside the home, just 42 percent of Republicans agreed.

More Democrats (27%) than Republicans (17%) or independents (19%) also report having a close friend or family member who had the disease.  

Low-income voters, meanwhile, were also more likely than affluent ones to emphasize the importance of mask wearing, limiting activities outside the home, and limiting close contact with people who don’t live with you. 

Nonwhite voters also rated the importance of staying home and limiting social interactions as more important than white voters did — though the two groups had statistically identical attitudes toward mask-wearing.

Most voters — 65 percent — believe it unlikely that they will contract COVID-19 in the next three months. But poll respondents nonetheless rated its risks as serious, with a plurality of 29 percent saying that contracting the disease would make them very sick and possibly kill them. 

The Franklin & Marshall poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.