Northwestern University: Majority of unvaccinated Americans are concerned enough about COVID-19 to wear masks

While 29% of Americans are still unvaccinated, nearly two-thirds of this group (19%) are concerned enough about the spread of COVID-19 to regularly wear a mask, and the No. 1 reason for a large majority of them is concern about family members contracting COVID-19.

A recent poll by a consortium of universities comprised of Northwestern, Northeastern, Harvard and Rutgers, finds 19% of the U.S. population, or approximately 62.6 million people, falls into this unvaccinated, mask-wearing group.

“This suggests there are two distinct populations of unvaccinated. Those wearing masks who are taking the virus very seriously while the unmasked group appear to be taking the virus less seriously,” said political scientist James Druckman, one of the consortium researchers.

Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and associate director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern.

The questions hovering over this approximately 62.6 million segment of the U.S. population are “Who are they?” and “What keeps them from taking the more powerful step in getting the COVID-19 vaccine?”

Seeking to better understand unvaccinated Americans who choose to wear a mask and ascertain what keeps them from getting the COVID-19 vaccination, the national poll surveyed 21,079 individuals from all 50 states between Aug. 26 and Sept. 27.

Who are the unvaccinated mask wearers?
The poll found unvaccinated Americans choosing to wear masks were more likely to be politically Independent (47%) than the entire sample (36%).

African Americans (20%) are overrepresented and non-Hispanic whites (55%) are underrepresented among this group compared to their proportion in the overall population.

Unvaccinated mask wearers tend to be significantly younger, with 63% under the age of 45, compared to 47%, which is the proportion of U.S. population under the age of 45.

Geographically, this group is disproportionately southern (45%) and less likely to be from the Northeast (14%). They are more likely to be female (58%) and lower in income and education compared to the general population.

Low trust in institutions, high concern for family
Among the unvaccinated choosing to wear masks, the survey reported the lowest level of trust in the capacity of 22 different institutions and individuals to handle the COVID-19 outbreak. However, this group reported the highest level of trust in Donald Trump among surveyed categories, but their trust in Trump was marginally lower than trust in hospitals and doctors.

In contrast, vaccinated individuals choosing to wear masks showed the highest level of trust in all but three of the categories: Donald Trump, Fox News and the police.

The poll also found high levels of concern among both mask wearers who are vaccinated (72%) and mask wearers who are unvaccinated (62%) over personally getting COVID-19. And it found even higher rates of concern over family members getting COVID-19 (84% and 75%, respectively).

According to Druckman, the report indicates different communication strategies are needed for those who remain unvaccinated, based on numerous factors, including whether they choose to wear masks.

“For those wearing masks it may require engaging on the science of the vaccine, while the unmasked group may require persuasion on the general personal and public health threat,” Druckman said.