Saturday, July 18, 2020

Where Americans are Wearing Masks

The New York Times has created an interactive map which shows where Americans are wearing face masks down to the zip-code level. If you hover over a zip-code area on the map you can see the percentage of the local population which always wear a mask and the proportion who say they never wear a mask.

The data for the Detailed Map of Who Is Wearing Masks in the U.S. comes from a NYT commissioned survey. As everybody knows polls can sometimes produce misleading results, especially when respondents are answering questions which they feel they may be judged on. However the NYT survey has a very large sample size of 250,000, which should help to alleviate any sampling errors.

The social media responses to the NYT map that I have seen have mostly remarked on its resemblance to a map of where people vote for the Democratic and Republican parties. This could obviously be related to the rural-urban split in Democratic and Republican votes. One argument for the regional variation in the number of people wearing masks could be population density. It seems likely that mask use will naturally be higher among densely populated areas than less populated areas. However the NYT says that a number of studies show that Republican voters are less likely to wear masks than Democrat voters.

As Shana Gadarian of Syracuse University says "partisanship is the big determinant" of mask behavior. This doesn't come as much of a shock, especially when you consider that elements of the Republican party have been dismissing Covid-19 as a hoax and that the wearing of face masks is some kind of attack on their personal freedom.

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