Now 61% of US likely visitors to museums and performing arts entities believe that these entities should again mandate masks for all visitors – and things may be shifting quickly.
Here’s how perceptions are trending.
The Delta variant is on the rise in the United States. The CDC reports that it is more contagious, may result in more serious illness than previous strains, and is even resulting in some breakthrough infections among the vaccinated. And young children in the United States remain unvaccinated as teachers and students alike prepare to return to classrooms with various levels of safety protocols. While some individual entities are choosing to require indoor masks again over the last few weeks, some city governments have made it a requirement. (My own city of Chicago’s mask mandate goes into effect on Friday.)
Cultural executives may be wondering (again) how much the rise of the coronavirus will impact the plans of potential visitors to museums and performing arts organizations. It’s hard not to notice the meme trend going around in which the variant is identified as a fall plans destroyer. While these memes may result in a chuckle, they also risk choking us up for a moment, too. How will the variant impact attendance, and didn’t we think we were almost over this?
Things are changing quickly again. As the Delta variant takes hold and we watch how it’s impacting intentions to visit cultural entities, we think the most helpful immediate information that IMPACTS Experience may provide at this moment is on the shifting sentiment on mask policies.
While the research is clear that potential visitors across the country are generally desiring mask mandates again and those organizations that do not have them risk jeopardizing attendance, some regions of the US don’t allow organizations to require masks. Some entities are government-operated, with local governments that do not permit mask mandates. Other entities are simply located in areas where these same local governments have effectively disallowed masking requirements. We understand that this kind of market research could be even more difficult to digest for these entities – and we hear you. Oof. However, how comfortable – or uncomfortable – people feel visiting a cultural institution given its safety protocols doesn’t change just because an entity cannot take a certain action to keep visitors safe. For that reason, these entities may still find this research useful so that they may observe the shifts and aim to have realistic expectations. We believe that high-quality market research makes executives smarter – even if the findings are uncomfortable (for now).
Remember: Cultural leaders don’t get to decide how guests feel about their own safety, and neither does the CDC. Potential guests decide for themselves what makes them feel comfortable.
This week, we aim to show the shifting sentiments around masking in light of the delta variant. Of course, things are evolving – and they may be evolving quickly.
Masks are growing more important again in terms of being a prerequisite to visit
At our last published masking data update (July 2), IMPACTS Experience found that 43% of high-propensity visitors to cultural entities in the United States believed that organizations should require all visitors to wear a mask. That was down from 53% on June 18, 62% on June 4, and 67% on May 2. People were feeling more comfortable going maskless!
But the percentages are going back up again.
As of August 13, 61% of high-propensity visitors to museums and performing arts organizations in the US believe these entities should mandate masks when indoors for all visitors again.
When a potential visitor sees their desired safety protocol is not in place, that person may conduct their own risk analysis. They may ask themselves how much health risk they are willing to accept for themselves and their families in order to visit this aquarium, for instance. The rise we’re already seeing in the desire for indoor mask requirements suggests that people may be asking themselves these questions again and behaving accordingly.
Masks remain particularly important for people with children in the household.
While the overall decrease in the desire for mask mandates in the US was driven by people without children in the household, the recently observed overall increase in the desire for mask mandates is being driven by them, too.
People with kids under 13 in the household, as a group, were never cool with discarding the masks. In fact, they remained reliably uncool about the shedding of indoor mask requirements over the last few months. Remember, children still aren’t able to be vaccinated in the US. Kids are getting the virus and some predictions are grim.
The chart below cumulatively shows the belief that a cultural organization should require masks among nearly 8,000 likely visitors to cultural organizations in the US. It is sorted to denote respondents who report having a child under age 13 in the household and those who do not.
This chart provides a helpful visual of the change that we’re starting to see. Essentially, in terms of public perceptions concerning mask requirements, we are currently in a similar position as of June 4th of this year – over two months ago. Remember these outcomes were freshly pulled on Friday and the Delta variant has already made multiple additional headlines since then: overloaded hospitals, breakthrough infections, and the announcement of potential booster shots. And we won’t be surprised if sentiments have changed again this coming Friday. In sum, things may be changing quickly yet again.
What does this mean for potential visitors with children in the household? It means that even before the variant, people with children in the household had lower intentions to visit cultural entities than usual due to safety concerns.
Masks are growing more important again, regardless of US region.
The sentiment toward mask requirements is shifting throughout the United States.
The findings below don’t just include cultural organizations. They contemplate likely visitors planning to take part in any visitor-serving enterprise experience in the next three months, including sporting events, theme parks, concerts, and so on. 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.
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 if masks aren’t required. The higher the rating, the more make-or-break masks are to people in terms of an attendance decision.
A response of “1” more often means masks are a non-factor (not necessarily that requiring them loses a visit). There may be some people who say that a mask requirement is a nonstarter to their visit, 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.
You will note significant variations in perceptions at various moments in time since we started tracking the US public’s attitudes about masking. Generally, we observe that these perceptions wax and wane with case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths. For example, on June 28, 2020, the US reported 39,508 new coronavirus cases. On April 17, 2021, the reported case count was 53,874. This number decreased to 12,700 new cases on June 18, 2021, and has since increased to 187,392 new cases on August 13, 2021.
Within these same periods of time, masking requirements and other health policies have varied wildly. Some locations opened before others, some imposed capacity limits, some removed mask requirements…and some of these organizations (including the CDC) have since reversed their previous recommendations on these same policies. Collectively, the data suggest that shifting actualities and policies have supported similar shifts in public perceptions and sentiments concerning masks.
Nationally, those who plan to attend visitor-serving entities say that masks are essential at a value of 7.4 on a 10.0 scale. On average – including both those who feel comfortable visiting without mandatory masks and people for whom it is a prerequisite to engage their visit – people who plan to visit any cultural organization in the next three months consider face coverings as generally important to enhancing their perceptions of safety.
Residents of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, North Carolina, and West Virginia still generally lean toward a mask requirement. However, on average, they do so with notably less collective conviction than do residents of other regions. Even in these states, the preference toward masking has increased since mid-June.
People are also more willing to wear masks and believe masks are more effective.
We’ve been tracking several other metrics. Among them is tracking shifting sentiments surrounding both (1) the efficacy of certain procedures, and (2) how willing visitors are to abide by them. Sure, we are seeing a shift back to a majority of potential visitors desiring mask mandates, but are visitors who are currently planning a visit willing to wear them?
The chart below cumulatively contemplates 2,708 US adults who intend to visit an organization in the next 90 days at the time of their being surveyed, and it quantifies how effective they believe various protocols to be in terms of supporting a safe onsite experience. This chart is populated by a process called lexical analysis which allows us to broadly categorize responses from people using their own words. The technologies that underpin this process help to minimize the risks of unintentional biases that occur when facilitators translate a respondent’s statements. We gathered the respondents’ open-ended answers to a series of questions probing the measures and protocols being deployed with the goal of enhancing their onsite safety. That’s also why some of these are rather specific – these are the summarized voices of the people.
The findings are shown in scalar variables and items with measurements over 6.0 are particularly worthy of note in this research. Leaders will want to think strategically before slashing protocols with values over 6.0 (which, at this point, isn’t many of them).
In terms of willingness to abide by specific safety protocols, the willingness to wear masks is going back up again. Interestingly, most safety protocols that do not involve masks have decreased or remained stable since mid-June (before the Delta variant was on the rise).
The only other item with a durable value over 6.0 is “visiting only during certain hours if I have a special health concern.” Essentially, the lexical analysis suggests that people think those with specific health considerations should find or be offered specific times to attend. In other words, increasingly, there is a palpable perception that your health is your problem…don’t make it mine. (Ouch!)
Effectiveness is one thing, but are people also increasingly growing willing to abide by certain protocols again?
The chart below contemplates the same people who intend to visit an organization in the next 90 days, and, more specifically, their willingness to take part in different safety protocols. Thus, the research in these two charts is representative of people planning to visit, but not all potential visitors.
On the whole, people are increasing in their willingness to wear masks onsite again.
We cannot tell you if your specific organization should enforce a mask requirement again. But we know that sentiments are shifting – and they may be shifting fast. Likely visitors are moving toward favoring mask requirements again. That’s something that all cultural executives deserve to know.
Of course, we’ll keep watching the movement on this front and we look forward to sharing updates in the coming weeks.
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