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Elon Poll Finds Most North Carolinians Support Mask Mandate, But Less Worried About Virus Now

The survey of more than 1,400 North Carolina residents conducted June 24-25 focused on a range of topics

related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its impact on the economy and personal lives.

A new survey by the Elon University Poll has found broad support for the statewide mandate that masks be worn in public spaces to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus 2019, with 74 percent of the state’s residents supporting the measure recently imposed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

However, the survey found that less than half of North Carolinians — 46 percent — say they always wear a mask in public spaces, with another 19 percent said they wear a mask in public “most of the time.”

The survey, conducted June 24-25, also found shifting opinions about the impact of COVID-19 in recent months. Comparison to the results of a March survey by the Elon Poll shows that state residents are somewhat less worried than they were earlier in the pandemic about the impact of COVID-19 on their personal financial situation, and less worried about contracting COVID-19 or spreading it to others.

However, the survey also found that North Carolinians think less about the national economy now than they did when asked by the Elon Poll in February. More than half of state residents say the economy has gotten worse since 2017, compared to 22 percent of N.C. voters who said the same in response to a February survey by the Elon Poll. Additionally, 38 percent of state residents gave the national economy a grade of “D” or “F” now, compared to 15 percent of N.C. voters in February.

“Mitigating COVID-19 risk in North Carolina is both a story of governmental policies and public behaviors,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and professor of political science and policy studies. “Our survey finds most North Carolinians are taking precautions and are generally aligned with restrictions so far. However, a minority think rules have been too strict or ineffective.”

North Carolinians are divided on how to reopen K-12 public schools in the fall, with support split nearly evenly between three options — a full-time return to the classroom, a hybrid of in-person and remote learning and full-time remote learning.

When it comes to sporting events, the state’s residents are generally in favor of the return of basketball and football at the college and professional levels, but a majority believe they can’t be held in the same manner as they have during past seasons.

The survey of 1,410 N.C. was conducted using an online opt-in sample marketplace. The survey has a credibility interval of +/- 2.74 percent. The credibility interval is an accuracy measure for opt-in online surveys. A fuller explanation of the credibility interval and the survey methodology are available in the full report.

The survey was conducted by the Elon Poll in partnership with The Raleigh News & Observer, Charlotte Observer and The Durham Herald Sun.

Masks and Measures
Nearly three out of four North Carolinians support a mask mandate for public spaces, but there is variation in support among different segments of the population.

The mandate is much more popular among Democrats, with 91 percent in favor, compared to Republicans, 57 percent of whom support the measure. The measure is more popular among women (79 percent support it) than men (68 percent support the mandate). There’s also variation based upon race, with 85 percent of Black residents in favor of requiring masks in public spaces compared to just 64 percent of White residents.

Similar variations exist when it comes to personal use of masks. Among Democrats, 62 percent say they always wear a mask in public buildings compared to 36 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of people who belong to neither party. Women and Black residents were also more likely to say they always wear a mask in public spaces.

Part of the effort to combat coronavirus has been encouraging social distancing, which includes remaining at least six feet away from others and not gathering in large groups. About two-thirds of North Carolinians believe that social distancing measures have helped slow the spread of coronavirus around the state, while others are less certain. Twenty-one percent say that such efforts have “not make much difference,” while 16 percent say that social distancing has not slowed the spread.

North Carolinians are also split on whether North Carolina has taken the right approach with the measures the government and public agencies have taken to combat coronavirus. Nearly half — 46 percent — say that the measures are not restrictive enough while 33 percent say they are “about right.” The remaining 21 percent believe that the measures have been too restrictive.

The poll found higher approval numbers for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s response to the pandemic than for President Donald Trump. Fifty-one percent gave Cooper a letter grade of “A” or “B” while 36 percent gave Trump an “A” or a “B.”

“The outcome of the 2020 gubernatorial election will be influenced by public opinion about Governor Cooper’s COVID-19 policies, particularly if those policies seem too restrictive,” Husser said. “So far, the Governor’s policies have been fairly well received. A slight majority handed out high marks for Cooper’s overall response and substantial majorities viewed the mask order positively and saw social distancing as effective.”

Coronavirus Concerns
As of July 1, North Carolina had about 66,500 lab-confirmed COVID-19, with about 900 people currently hospitalized and close to 1,400 deaths. To find out the personal reach of COVID-19, the Elon Poll asked residents if they personally know someone who has contracted COVID-19, with three out of 10 residents (31 percent) saying they did.

Black residents and other non-White residents were more likely to know someone who had contracted COVID-19 as were women and younger residents. Thirty-five percent of Democrats said they knew someone who had COVID-19 compared to 29 percent of Republicans.

Given the large number of people being touched by COVID-19, the Elon Poll sought to gauge their concerns about how the virus and illness are personally impacting their lives. About half — 53 percent — said they are worried about developing severe illness from coronavirus and spreading it to others.

North Carolinians are more worried about the impact of the virus on their family, with 69 percent saying they are concerned about a family member developing severe illness from coronavirus.

Half of North Carolinians are avoiding spending time with people they care about because of coronavirus concerns, and 63 percent said that they avoided going places and doing thing they would normally do because of concerns about coronavirus. Two-thirds of North Carolinians said they are less likely to go on vacation this summer because of coronavirus.

Reopening Schools
The Elon Poll found North Carolinians split over the best approach to reopening K-12 public schools this fall as North Carolina continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following a statewide order in March, the North Carolina’s K-12 public schools shifted to full-time remote learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state. The results of the Elon Poll survey of more than 1,400 N.C. residents was conducted as Gov. Roy Cooper and state officials prepare for a decision on three possible pathways for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The Elon Poll found that 38 percent of North Carolinians prefer a hybrid approach, with K-12 students learning from home part of the time and learning in-person part of the time to allow for greater physical distancing inside school classrooms. Thirty-four percent of state residents are in favor of a full-time return to in-person learning while 29 percent prefer that students continue to learn remotely.

“No demographic subgroup in our survey was in consensus about what K-12 schools should do in fall 2020,” Husser said. “That all three broad approaches for reopening K-12 schools have similar levels of support is a testament to the uncertainty, complexity and difficulty of the decision.”

Responses varied little based upon whether the respondent has a child or grandchild in school, but other factors appear to have produced variations in how residents believe the state should proceed.

The survey found a split along political party lines, with Republicans more likely to be in favor of a full-time return to the classroom. Forty-six percent of Republicans are in favor of that approach, compared to 23 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of residents who don’t belong to either party. Forty percent of both Democrats and those belonging to neither party prefer the hybrid approach compared to 33 percent of Republicans. Continuing with full-time remote learning was favored by 36 percent of Democrats, 29 percent of those belonging to neither party and 21 percent of Republicans.

Additionally, men were generally more in favor of a full-time return to the classroom while the top choice for women was the part-time return to the classroom. White respondents were generally more in favor of a full-time return to the classroom than those who are Black or of another race.

Views of Health Care, the Economy
The COVID-19 pandemic has created spikes in unemployment in North Carolina and across the country as many segments of the economy have been forced to slow or cease operations due to restrictions or requirements meant to contain the spread of the virus. However, the stock market closed out one of its better second quarters to the surprise of many, creating an economic benefit for investors.

More than a third of North Carolinians — 36 percent — told the Elon Poll that their personal financial situation has gotten worse since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and 59 percent say they are worried about the impact of coronavirus on their personal financial situation. About half — 55 percent — said their personal financial situation has remained the same, while 10 percent say it has gotten better.

Asked to give the current national economy a letter grade, “C” was the most popular response, with 40 percent of North Carolinians giving it that passing grade. Thirty-eight percent gave the economy a “D” or an “F,” compared to 23 percent who offered an “A” or a “B”.

Compare that to the results of a survey of N.C. voters in February, when the Elon Poll found 52 percent giving the national economy an “A” or a “B” and 15 percent offering a “D” or “F.”

“Though economic concerns remain high among North Carolinians, we find evidence of a limited rise in optimism,” Husser said. “The percent of residents worried about the impact of coronavirus on their personal financial situation dropped from 74% in March to 59% in June.”

The February survey of N.C. voters also found a much rosier view of the course of the U.S. economy since 2017. In that survey, nearly half — 48 percent — said the national economy had gotten better since 2017, with 28 percent saying it had stayed the same and 22 percent saying it had gotten worse. The June survey of N.C. residents found more than half — 54 percent — believe that the national economy has gotten worse, with 15 percent saying it has stayed the same and 31 percent saying it had gotten better.

On health care, the opinions of North Carolinians have improved since February. Thirty-three percent of North Carolinians now give the U.S. healthcare system a grade of “A” or “B compared to 23 percent of N.C. voters in February. Thirty-two percent now give the health care system a grade of “D” or “F,” compared to 41 percent offering those grades in February.