South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Anthony Man | August 24, 2021
A public opinion poll released Tuesday provided new evidence that Floridians are gravely concerned about the current surge in COVID-19 cases, think it was largely preventable, and support requiring masks in public schools.
The Quinnipiac University Poll also found many Floridians aren’t happy with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pandemic performance.
A significant majority — including more than half of voters in his own Republican Party — oppose the governor’s efforts to punish school leaders who have defied the governor and implemented mask mandates.
DeSantis’ move to withhold salaries of school leaders for mandating masks for students is a “bad idea” to 69% of Floridians and a “good idea” to 25%. Just 38% of Republicans thought it was a good idea and 52% said it was a bad one. Democratsoppose DeSantis’ action on salaries by 91% to 8% and independents by 70% to 26%.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends masking in schools to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19. DeSantis issued an executive order on July 30 to stop school districts from imposing mask mandates. Eight school districts representing about 40% of the state’s population have defied the governor, despite the DeSantis administration threat to withhold pay from school board members who voted to require masks.
Most people also disagree with another DeSantis move: banning local governments from imposing mask mandates. The poll found more than two-thirds of Florida adults think local officials should be able to require masks in indoor public spaces.
“Concerns about COVID-19 are palpable, and frustration with the surge in cases is reflected in the fact that a majority of Floridians say it should never have happened,” Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy said in a statement about the poll findings.
The poll found 61% of Floridians think the rise in cases in the past few weeks was preventable, 63% are concerned about the Delta variant, 59% say the spread of COVID-19 in the state is out of control and 73% say it is a serious current problem.
About a third of Floridians feel differently. Just 33% disagree that the surge was preventable, 35% aren’t concerned about Delta, 34% say COVID is under control and 25% don’t think it is a serious problem at this time.
As with most COVID-related questions, there is a partisan difference, with 98% of Democrats, 73% of independents and 47% of Republicans regarding it as a serious problem.
Most Floridians support requiring masks in schools.
But different levels of support emerged in two Quinnipiac Poll questions with somewhat different wording. Overall support for school mask mandates is higher than when it was phrased as a question of who should have the authority to make the decision, schools or parents.
- “Do you support or oppose requiring students, teachers and staff to wear masks in schools?” The results were 60% support and 36% oppose.
- Do you think schools should be able to require masks for all students, or do you think parents should decide whether or not their won student will be wearing a mask?” Pollsters found 54% of respondents thought schools should make the decision and 44% say it should be up to parents.
Christina Pushaw, DeSantis press secretary, said by email the governor “bases his policy preferences on empirical evidence, not public opinion polling.
“Florida law does not ban masks — it merely protects parents’ rights to choose whether their own child wears a mask to school or not. Those who want their children to wear masks to school have the right to make that choice for their children. They do not have the right to force-mask other parents’ children. Anecdotally, some children do not have problems wearing masks 8 hours a day, but others do. Every child is different, and that’s why Governor DeSantis opposes -one-size-fits-all’ mandates,” Pushaw said. “The CDC’s forced-masking advocacy is not supported by data.”
There is broad public support in Florida for mask wearing and mask requirements.
Overall, Quinnipiac found, 63% of Floridians say the issue of mask wearing was primarily about public health, and 33% see it is an issue of personal freedom. Republicans feel differently, with 58% regarding mask wearing as an issue of personal freedom and 39% as a matter of public health.
Other mask findings:
- Requiring everyone to wear masks while in indoor public spaces, 59% support, 39% oppose.
- Allowing local officials to require masks in indoor public spaces if they believe it is necessary, 68% support, 29% oppose.
- Consider masks or face coverings effective in slowing spread of COVID, 64% agree, 31% disagree.
DeSantis, partisan outlook
During most of the pandemic, the public has been sharply divided based on political preferences. The Quinnipiac Poll shows that continues in Florida.
People are deeply divided over the performance of DeSantis, who has emphasized personal responsibility and individual freedom. The poll found 41% say he is helping efforts to slow the spread of COVID in Florida; 46% say he is hurting anti-COVID efforts.
Among Republicans, 75% say DeSantis is helping. Among Democrats, 94% say he is hurting. Independents are evenly split, with 44% saying he’s hurting efforts and 39% saying he’s helping.
More white Floridians think he’s helping (49%) than hurting (39%). Fewer Hispanics think he’s helping (39%) than hurting (48%). Among Black Floridians, 79% see DeSantis as hurting efforts to slow the spread of COVID and 19% as helping.
Pollsters found 37% of Floridians report they are limiting interactions with friends and family members who don’t share their views about COVID-19, and 60% say they aren’t doing that.
Political affiliation plays an enormous role in those decisions, with 62% of Democrats reporting they’re limiting interactions with people holding different views. By contrast, 75% of Republicans and 64% of independents say they are not limiting their interactions with family and friends based on COVID views.
The results come from a Quinnipiac University survey of 997 Florida adults conducted by live interviewers calling landlines and cell phones from Aug. 17-21. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The sample sizes for subgroups — such as Democrats and Republicans — are smaller, so the margin of error is higher.
Pollster ratings from FiveThirtyEight.com give Quinnipiac an A minus rating based on the historical accuracy and methodology of its polls.