Masks or no masks? Vaccinated Americans are still wearing them

June 02, 2021, 1:34 PM UTC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance allowing vaccinated Americans to take off their masks outdoors and when inside with vaccinated people was a decision most Americans applauded. But it did not change behavior, and those most likely to follow the new guidelines aren’t the ones the CDC say can lose their masks.  

In a recent Economist/YouGov poll, those who reject becoming vaccinated remain far more likely than the vaccinated to take off their masks, especially when socializing indoors with unvaccinated people (69% of vaccinated adults would wear a mask in such circumstances, compared to 28% of adults who will not get vaccinated). Four in five vaccinated adults (80%) will wear a mask when traveling by plane (55%), compared to 46% of unvaccinated Americans. 

In general, more in every vaccination group accept mask wearing on planes and on cruise ships (71% of vaccinated adults would wear a mask in this case, compared to one-third of the unvaccinated). Of course, in most cases, wearing a mask is mandatory before anyone is allowed to board.   

Those who reject vaccination are the least likely to say they will wear a mask in every circumstance included in the poll. Although vaccine rejectors make up only 16% of all respondents, they are more dominant in some groups than others. Only 4% of Democrats reject being vaccinated, but one in five Republicans (21%) do. The Midwest is the most vaccine-resistant region: 21% there say they will not be vaccinated.  

The CDC guidance approving socializing without a mask applies only to those who are fully vaccinated, but those who reject the vaccine are much more likely to take the CDC’s relaxed masking advice. This group is also more likely to reject mask mandates in general. More than half of those who say they will not get the vaccine (56%) believe that no institution – not private businesses, schools, nor local and state governments – should be permitted to require masks.   

That makes the Texas and Iowa prohibitions against mask mandates in schools or businesses popular, but only with vaccine rejectors. Overall, most adults believe that privately owned businesses (56%), colleges and universities (55%), and K-12 schools (54%) should be allowed to require masks.  

But there is also a political component in the responses. Republicans would forbid mask mandates by 61% to 39%, including 56% of fully vaccinated Republicans. 

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The CDC guidance did not increase trust 

The new CDC guidelines on masks did little to increase public trust in the institution’s medical guidance, as trust of the CDC has become politicized. Half (51%) this week — the same percentage as last week — trust the CDC’s medical advice. This is no different from opinion two weeks ago, before the new guidance.  

Republicans have grown less likely to regularly wear a mask and more likely to reject mask guidelines over the last two weeks, do not trust the CDC’s medical advice. This week, 54% of Republicans distrust medical advice from the CDC, up five points from two weeks ago (49%). 

Although a majority of Republicans (58%) have begun the process of vaccination, the percentage is 24-points lower than the 82% of Democrats who have begun or completed the COVID-19 vaccination process. Nearly nine in ten of those who reject the vaccine (91%) and four in five of those who are vaccine-hesitant (80%) claim they are more worried about side effects from the vaccine than they are about contracting COVID-19.  

Just one in ten Americans aged 65 and older (10%) say they won’t be vaccinated. They have had the longest time to become adjusted to receiving a vaccine and have seen most in their cohort become vaccinated (80% of those 65 and older report they have been fully vaccinated). And their opinions have changed. Last summer, more than half of those 65 and older said they would not be vaccinated or were unsure about it. That combined total today is only 17%.

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See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between May 22 - 25, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.9% for the overall sample.  

Image: Getty