Over 70% of likely visitors in the US indicate that requiring face coverings will make them feel safer attending a museum or performing arts organization.
Masks. They are the hot topic of the last month, but particularly of the last week. The CDC recommends them and the science is clear that they reduce coronavirus infection rates. Dr. Fauci encourages them and the Vice President urges Americans to wear them, but the President heretofore has refused to do so. Some people are loud about their desire not to wear masks. There have even been physical fights about them.
As coronavirus cases rise and some states consider reopening, cultural executives seem to be wondering what to do – and for good reason.
Do likely visitors and members of the US public want museums and performing arts organizations to require masks?
What about in the southern states where the confluence of increasing cases alongside staunch mask-free supporters is strongest? The anti-mask contingent sure can be loud, but do they represent most Americans?
Today, we’ll provide a data update on what likely visitors to cultural organizations say will make them feel safest, and then dive specifically into the strength of conviction surrounding masks as essential prerequisites to resume cultural participation. And, yes, we’ll show you the data by region.
Over 70% of potential visitors say mandatory face coverings will make them feel safer.
We have been tracking what people say will make them feel safe visiting for several weeks. The June 8th date represents our most recent past publication of the data. The data update for June 29th considers 3,862 additional adult respondents.
We asked people, “What would make you feel safe and comfortable visiting a [insert organization type] again?” First, we collected people’s answers to this question using a process called lexical analysis that allows us to broadly categorize responses from people using their own words. The technologies that enable this process help to minimize the risks of unintentional biases that occur when facilitators translate or summarize a respondent’s statements. Then, these categorized responses are used to populate the response range of a multiple-choice question. In other words, we did not internally brainstorm these options and present them in a survey based on our best guess of what people would say. The options came directly from survey respondents.
Short of a vaccine, face coverings are officially the most important factor to make people feel safe visiting again. It’s also the highest-ranked factor within an organization’s control.
You can dive into a deeper analysis of some of these factors by visiting our last article on this chart. There are some notable changes since June 8 worth a moment of contemplation:
1) The government lifting restrictions doesn’t mean people feel safe. This value decreased dramatically in only three weeks. It was the second biggest factor after the availability of a vaccine when we first started this research. Now it’s sixth and decreasing. This decrease points to declining trust that the government lifting restrictions actually equates to improved conditions and greater public safety. (Of course, the corresponding uptick in coronavirus cases that roughly coincided with many state and local governments deciding to reopen may also support skepticism concerning the official public health response.)
2) The ability to be outdoors has increased as a safety factor. It’s been publicized that outdoor areas may be safer than indoor spaces when it comes to contracting the virus. People are hearing the message.
3) Seeing others visit remains a leading factor. People are looking to others as indicators of what may be a safe behavior or activity. Simply put, people may not feel safe visiting cultural organizations again until visiting is something that people regularly do again in a coronavirus-reopened world.
4) On the whole, there remains trust in your deciding to reopen when it’s safe, and in a way that’s safe. It’s no secret. People trust cultural organizations. Many closed before they were mandated to do so in an effort to flatten the curve. A notable 34% of likely visitors trust that you’ve duly considered safety and accordingly revised operations when making your decision to reopen.
Unsurprisingly, masks are a polarizing topic
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? But just because the data indicates a measure of polarization doesn’t mean the positions are necessarily equally balanced. An availability heuristic is a cognitive bias that relies on immediate examples that come to mind when you think of something – and videos on the news of people protesting face masks may come to mind first for some folks before they stop and consider other evidence.
As we’ve seen, 70% of potential visitors in the United States say mandatory face coverings will make them feel safer. That means that 30% of people don’t significantly value masks as a level of personal protection against the coronavirus, are somewhat ambivalent about organizations or governments mandating masks, or actively oppose their usage. (No, not all 30% are necessarily actively opposed to masks.)
The following two charts in this article comprise US adults indicating intent to attend a visitor-serving enterprise within the next three months. The first chart, featuring select cities, has a sample of 2,491 adults. This data doesn’t only include cultural organizations; instead, it contemplates likely visitors to any visitor-serving enterprise (including sporting events, theme parks, concerts, etc.). We’ve included the broadest category of enterprise because it helps us understand the safety factors motivating any decision to attend a visitor-serving organization. Zooming out for perspective is a critical practice to help us effectively identify key trends. Over time, as we collect more data, this baseline for all visitor-serving enterprises will help us better understand the unique nuances applicable to cultural organizations.
We asked: “On a scale of 1-10 where a response of ‘1’ indicates that face coverings are ‘not at all essential, and a response of ’10’ indicates that face coverings are ‘absolutely essential and prerequisite’ to visiting an organization, how essential is requiring mandatory face coverings for all staff members, volunteers, and guests in your decision to visit an organization?”
A”10″ is an absolutely essential nonstarter. No mask requirement, no visit. These people aren’t going to go to places – particularly indoor venues where social distancing may be difficult – if masks aren’t required. The higher the rating, the more make-or-break masks are to people in terms of an attendance decision.
Instead of a nonstarter, a response of “1” more often means masks are a non-factor. There may be some people who say that a mask requirement is a nonstarter, but a response of “1” is not necessarily a refusal to go if masks are required. Instead, it more frequently means that not mandating masks will not affect the visitation decision. (As you saw above, a meaningful number of people feel comfortable visiting with whatever the current protocols are – whether masks are required or not.)
In San Francisco, people who plan to visit organizations – those who want masks, don’t want them, and are ambivalent about them all combined – feel that face coverings are an essential requirement to visit at a value of 8.0 on a 10-point scale. In Houston, this value is 6.2/10. In Chicago, it is 7.2/10. You see how this works…
You also see that these averages are rather high considering that it’s measuring how essential masks are to the visitation decision and it also includes all people who say masks aren’t important!
Agreement with the sentiment is generally lower in southern states. The lowest recorded value in the above analysis was in Nashville… but the distribution of responses is telling. Indeed, this city provides a helpful peek into the polarizing nature of masks in some areas.
Of the responses in Nashville, 33.3% of people said face coverings were not essential to their visitation decision (a response of “1”). However, 53.8% of people gave masks a “7” or higher response on the essential scale. While a majority of people deem face coverings essential in Nashville, the one-third of the local sample who do not deem them necessary brings the collective average down to a more middling range in terms of the area’s overall strength of conviction.
Some aspect of polarization comes into play in all of these cities and regions. The people who believe masks are essential tend to report this with high values (≥7). The people who do not think they are important report low values (≤3). And, collectively, we observe a somewhat unusual distribution of responses that tends to group responses at the extreme ends of the response continuum – lots of 1s and 2s and 3s and 8s and 9s and 10s… far fewer responses between.
This makes the fact that more people want masks than don’t even more important. Most people want them. Those who do want masks tend to deem them essential to the visitation decision.
Most potential visitors lean toward masks being “absolutely essential,” despite variance by region.
As you’ve seen, there’s some variance by city. These findings are informed by a prevailing regional sentiment, quantified below as the product of 3,771 responses from US adults qualified by their stated intention to attend any visitor-serving enterprise within the next three months.
The same data evaluation criteria as indicated for the cities was applied to the regional analysis below. In other words, a response of ‘1’ indicates face coverings are ‘not at all essential,’ and a response of ’10’ indicates face coverings are ‘absolutely essential and prerequisite’ to visiting an organization.
Nationally, those who plan to attend visitor-serving entities say that mandatory masks are essential at a value of 6.8 on a 10.0 scale. On average – including both those who feel comfortable visiting without mandatory masks and people for whom it is prerequisite for a visit – people who plan to visit any cultural organization in the next three months consider face coverings as essential to enhancing their perceptions of safety with a relatively high strength of conviction.
If you were hoping for even more unanimity of agreement for masks – or anything else, for that matter – consider that unanimity is not a norm in the United States. We don’t all even agree that kittens are cute. While national data provides broad directional insight, it’s critical to recognize local conditions – and that Americans generally don’t all agree on much of anything, no matter where you are. Again, you can see that the southern regions tend to have more polarized viewpoints, resulting in more mid-range values when averaged.
On the whole, not requiring masks makes a meaningful number of people in every region at least moderately uncomfortable. And here’s the kicker: Research suggests that NOT requiring masks will have a greater negative impact on attendance than requiring them for a vast majority of organizations.
For now, if you’re in an area that requires masks, then the government has given your organization some cover (pun intended) for policies to help manage customer service issues relating to non-mask wearers. If you’re in an area that does not require masks by government mandate, then you should be aware that the majority of people generally consider them essentially prerequisite to their consideration of a visit.
There will still be a segment of the market who will actively resist wearing masks, and a larger segment who may be ambivalent about masks and not have one ready to wear upon their visit. For these audiences, it may be beneficial to have masks available for use during their visit.
Remember that all of the data shown here focuses on likely visitors and people who actually plan to attend visitor-serving organizations in the next three months. This matters, because your core audiences are not the people (mask friend or foe) who troll social media and get angry but haven’t visited you before and weren’t likely to do so anyway.
Entities may benefit by being prepared to address or defend their face covering policy in either direction.
Masks slow the spread of the coronavirus.
As a data company, we advocate facts and science. We’ve shared facts in this article about visitor perceptions surrounding face coverings to inform reopening strategies for the sole purpose of helping entities understand what will make people feel safe visiting again. As trusted entities and cornerstones of your communities, we want to help you motivate attendance.
What will make people feel safe is a matter of their own opinion. We hope to be helpful on that front and will continue to share that data.
But what will actually make people safe is not about opinion at all.
According to health experts and studies, face coverings help reduce the spread of the coronavirus to others. Masks may save tens of thousands of lives during this global pandemic – which is upon us, and real, and the reason that cultural organizations had to close their doors in the first place.
We’d include this important point even if a majority of the public did not believe that masks are important.
It’s a bonus for cultural organizations that most people do.
We’ll continue to monitor this metric over time, as the belief that masks are essential and prerequisite to a visit has increased dramatically in recent weeks. It may well continue to change.
Here are the COVID-19 data insights for cultural entities that we’ve published to date. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.