Masks should be mandatory on planes, public transport, say majority in US

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(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A majority of American adults (57%) say travelers on planes and public transportation should be required to wear masks, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. A smaller proportion (42%) say travelers should not be required to wear masks in these situations.

A bar chart showing a majority of Americans say masks should be required on planes and public transit

In April, a federal judge in Florida overturned the US government’s mask mandate for airplanes and public transportation. The Justice Department is appealing the decision and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people continue to wear masks in these settings. For now, airlines and other businesses can set their own rules, with most leaving mask-wearing optional.

As has often been the case on political questions about how to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, supporters are wide apart in their opinions on this issue. A large majority of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic (80%) say travelers on planes and public transportation should be required to wear masks. In contrast, 71% of Republicans and leaning Republicans say travelers should do not be required to wear masks.

The Pew Research Center surveyed 10,282 Americans to understand their perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic. This survey was conducted from May 2 to May 8, 2022.

All of those who participated are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited by random national sampling of residential addresses. In this way, almost all American adults have a chance of being selected. The survey is weighted to be representative of the US adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, education and other categories. Learn more about the ATP methodology.

Here are the questions used in this analysis, as well as the answers, and its methodology.

There are differences in views on mask requirements across a range of other characteristics, including gender, age, vaccination status and level of concern about COVID-19.

A majority of American adults who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (66%) say masks should be mandatory for travelers on planes and on public transportation. Of those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine, only 25% think masks should be mandatory. Even among the unvaccinated, however, there are differences of partisan views: For example, 60% of unvaccinated Democrats think masks should be mandatory for travelers on planes and public transit, but 12% of Republicans don’t. vaccinated think masks should be mandatory.

On a separate question from the new survey, Americans are now much less likely than they were at the start of the outbreak to say they wore a mask in public, as other polls have also found. public.

A line chart showing a decreasing share of Americans report wearing a mask in stores all or most of the time

Overall, 30% say they’ve worn a mask in stores and businesses all or most of the time in the past month. About a quarter (23%) say they have done so from time to time, and 44% say they have never or hardly ever done so.

In January, amid a spike in cases caused by the omicron variant, 61% of American adults said they wore a mask in stores and businesses all or most of the time.

Democrats remain much more likely than Republicans to say they frequently wear a mask in stores and businesses (42% to 14%).

A bar chart showing most Americans aren't bothered when others around them in public don't wear masks - or when stores and businesses require masks for service

While mask-wearing among American adults has become much less common in recent months, relatively small shares say they are embarrassed when stores or businesses require customers to wear a mask. About a third (32%) say they bother a lot or a little when shops and businesses need a mask for service, but 68% say they don’t mind too much or not at all. The share of adults who say they are bothered by requirements for professional masks has only increased by 4 percentage points since November 2020.

Separately, there has been a sharp drop in Americans who say it bothers them when people around them in public places don’t wear masks.

Overall, 37% of adults say it bothers them a lot or a little when people in public don’t wear masks around them; a much larger share (63%) say it doesn’t bother them too much or not at all. In November 2020, before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available, 72% said it bothered them a lot or a little when people around them in public weren’t wearing a mask. As with other attitudes around masks, there are wide partisan gaps on these two measures, with Democrats much more likely than Republicans to be bothered by the people around them. do not wearing masks, and Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to be bothered by stores requiring masks.

Beyond mask use for the coronavirus outbreak, a large portion of Americans are expressing openness to wearing a mask to help deal with other infectious diseases — namely a cold or the flu, according to the new investigation.

A bar chart showing that a majority of American adults say they would likely wear a mask in public if they were sick with a cold or the flu

About seven in ten Americans (71%) say that if they were sick with a cold or the flu, they would likely wear a mask in public, while 27% say they probably wouldn’t.

Public health officials have weighed whether to recommend masks to help control the spread of the flu.

A large majority of Democrats say they would likely wear a mask in public if they had a cold or the flu (85%). Republicans are much less likely to say this; Yet just over half (53%) say they would likely wear a mask.

Those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are much more likely than those who have not to say they would likely wear a mask if they had a cold or the flu (78% to 47%). This pattern by vaccination status holds true for both Republicans and Democrats.

Note: The following are the questions used in this analysis, together with the answers, and its methodology.

Alec Tyson is associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.

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