California’s coronavirus count surpassed 570,000 cases and 10,000 deaths last week, putting the state in third place for coronavirus deaths in the US. In the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we found that 51% of Californians believe that the worst of coronavirus in California is yet to come, compared to just 25% of Californians who think that the worst is over.
While coronavirus has caused a devastating impact in the country’s most populous state, California represents just one segment of America’s 5 million coronavirus cases and 165,000 deaths in figures that are only rising. When asked to assess the course of the coronavirus in the US as a whole, Californians are even more pessimistic with 57% believing the worst in the US is yet to come compared to 24% believing the worst is over.
After a period of stabilized cases in April, California’s counties could apply for ‘attestation,’ which gave the green light for restaurants, childcare and even high risk workplaces like beauty parlors, gyms and indoor places of worship to re-open. Unfortunately, by mid-July, more than half of California’s counties were on a watch list for increased cases, eventually leading Governor Gavin Newsom to impose a second lockdown on the 13th of July.
The lockdown is aligned with how the majority of Californians still feel unsafe doing many normal activities: 78% feel unsafe going to the gym, 77% feel unsafe using public transport, 77% feel unsafe going to a bar or restaurant inside, and 64% feel unsafe visiting a museum. The only activities that the majority of Californians felt safe doing were grocery shopping (66%) and meeting with one or two friends (57%).
As well as shutting movie theatres, gyms, and indoor restaurants across the whole of California, Governor Newsom also put legislation in place on July 13th requiring face masks in all ‘high risk situations,’ including public indoor spaces and outdoor spaces where six feet of distance cannot be maintained. 82% of Californians agreed that the rules set out were clear and easy to follow.
Despite face masks being a point of contention throughout the coronavirus crisis, 85% of Californians approve of the state-wide order forcing them to wear a mask. While there is still some resistance, anti-mask sentiment in California has very much quietened down. Our earlier research showed mask usage to be a partisan issue, with Trump supporters being far less likely to wear masks or support relevant legislation. Trump’s decision in July to wear a mask in public, and even imply that wearing one is patriotic, may have done a great deal to change the opinion of masks among his supporters. While likely Biden supporters are still more likely (93%) to approve of California’s mask legislation than Trump supporters (72%), an overwhelming majority from both sides express support for the state-wide order.
Consistent with the overwhelming public support of the order, reported mask usage among Californians is very high. 63% of respondents always wear a mask when leaving home, 76% always wear a mask shopping at supermarket, and 67% always wear a mask when they enter any building other than the one they live in.
Certain counties were more likely to wear facemasks than others. For example, 70% of respondents in the San Francisco Bay Area (Region 3) wore a facemask whenever they left the house compared to 51% of respondents in Superior California (Region 1). This variation is most likely to do with a difference in risk, given that San Francisco is extremely urban and Superior California is mostly rural. When looking at mask usage within supermarkets, a classified high risk scenario, the gap is much smaller with the highest (81%) usage found among respondents in San Diego Imperial County (Region 10) and the lowest (63%) usage found among respondents in Southern San Joaquin valley (Region 6), which is one of the poorest regions in California.
Difference in mask usage among likely Trump voters and likely Biden voters might also be explained by this rural-urban divide. 50% of likely Trump voters reported to always wear a facemask when leaving the house compared to 70% of likely Biden voters. However, when it comes to mask usage at the supermarket, numbers are similar with 74% of likely Trump voters reporting to always wear a mask compared to 79% of likely Biden voters. Given that many likely Trump voters live in rural areas, which typically have lower community spread, living environment may be the main driver behind mask usage.
Mask legislation seems to have had a positive effect in California if we look at reported mask usage in other states. Our latest research in six key swing states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) showed 38-60% of respondents reporting to always wear a mask when leaving the house and 54-74% reporting to always wear a mask when shopping at the supermarket. Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have passed state-wide mask orders at some point during the pandemic, but Arizona and Florida continue to leave it for individual counties to determine. While there is no direct correlation in these states between mask orders and mask usage, it seems likely that Newsom’s order in California tapped into existing support for mask usage, if not bolstering it further.
The majority (55%) of Californians approve of Governor Newsom and his performance since January, compared to just 22% of respondents who did not. Gov. Newsom had been praised for his quick response to the pandemic when California was the first state to lockdown on March 19th.
However, our research was conducted in the middle of a data debacle where a backload of 295,000 coronavirus cases were left unprocessed due to a data glitch. Just days later, the director of the California Department of Public Health Dr Sonia Angell resigned, with Dr Erica Pan now acting as her successor. In a press conference on Monday, Governor Newsom refused to divulge any reasoning that may have been behind Angell’s resignation, leading to suspicion that she was asked to leave in response to the data issues.
Further pressure is mounting on Gov. Newsom from some corners for his decision to keep schools remote until their county is off the watch list for 14 days. The majority of Californians, however, appear satisfied with Newsom’s governance and express deep concern for the coronavirus pandemic.