Issues with mask use in Washington State may not be driven by staunch anti-maskers, but lie within complacency among the population

In Washington State mask and face-covering use became mandatory by statewide order on July 24th, 2020 for all persons when outside their home both at public indoor and outdoor locations

Just as this order was put into place, we found ourselves screening participants for a study across the state on their mask use and their opinions on mask use on July 26th and 27th.

Research design, data collection, and report completed by:
Tyler Jackson, Research Analyst, Strategic Research Associates LLC
Joanne Vega, MBA, Research Director, Strategic Research Associates LLC

Methodology in Fielding

From July 26th through July 27th, the Strategic Research Associates Panel was leveraged for use in a self-administered online survey that was aimed at collecting information about mask/face covering use among panelists within the past 5 days, and their general opinions about mask use topics for psycho-graphic coding and attitudinal positioning.

Our survey included three demographic questions to understand and validate the diverse demographics in our research panel; age, gender, and zip code. These demographic questions help us to understand if differences in opinion could be found between ages, genders, or religions across Washington State.

The study was limited to only respondents whose zip codes were within the State of Washington.

Respondents were asked up eight additional questions about their personal mask use, and feelings about use policies. Responses to these 8 questions were codified to allow us to segment respondents into “Mask Compliant” and “Mask Non-Compliant” categories. Those that are identified as “Non-Compliant” either admitted to exposing themselves by not using a mask in a public space within the past 5 days, forgetting to use a mask at some time in the past 5 days, or by scoring a more conservative than a liberal attitudinal score on our opinion testing questions.

While some may argue that identifying someone who forgot their mask one time in the past 5 days as Non-Compliant is too aggressive, we feel that due to confirmation bias, the self-affirmation of a single-use can likely indicate a more frequent occurrence than just once.

We used a saturation sample approach for this study and collected as many responses as possible among our panelists. Data were collected from 756 respondents across between the ages of 18 and 86.

Due to the rules of statistical reliability, we can state the findings in this report are statistically valid to +/- 3.56% at 95% confidence. Subsample analysis can achieve reliability of +/- 5% to +/- 10% at 95% confidence depending on the total subsample size.

Executive Summary and Key Findings

Our research goal with this study was to explore how our panelists represent their mask use, as well as uncover what behavioral and psychographic biases may be apparent as we look toward fielding similar studies for our clients in the future.

  • Is everyone wearing masks all the time?
  • Are there any types of people less likely to be 100% compliant all the time?
  • What attitudinal correlations predict mask use behavior?
We all make mistakes sometimes

Probably one of the most interesting findings for us when evaluating this data was that even those who act and refer to themselves as Mask Compliant find themselves in situations where they may not have been properly masked 100% of the time while in public places. 3% of our Mask Compliant respondents indicate they may have removed their mask in a public space for more than 5 minutes, 8% found themselves in a situation where they forgot to put on a mask when they needed to.

17.12% of our Mask Complaint respondents indicated they wore their masks “most of the time” when entering public spaces or in situations where they were unable to maintain proper social distancing within the past 5 days. Those who we identified as Mask Non-Compliant rose to nearly 41%. Even our Mask Non-Complaint respondents found themselves wearing masks either “All of the time” or “Most of the time” at 80% affirming their mask use.

Regionally, as we examine instances where anyone in our respondent population may have found themselves removing a mask while in public for 5 minutes or more; we find many (29.24%) have done so to consume food or drink, and 10.38% admit to doing so! Eastern Washington respondents were twice a likely to respond with “Yes, in the past 5 days I have removed my mask while in a public space for 5 minutes or more” without indicating it was for dining.

We also find that many respondents (27.51%) admit to, in our phrasing, accidentally forgetting to use a mask when entering a public space. They may have put it on after realizing, but they do admit to having a lapse in masking judgment. Either being more honest, or actually having a higher incidence, our Eastern Washington respondents admit to this lapse of judgment slightly more often than those in Western Washington.

While we may not see a lot of opportunity curb opinions and actions among the Mask Non-Compliant population, when we evaluate this issue from a public health position, we can see there may be a more valuable opportunity for a focus on reducing accidental exposure VS curbing strong attitudes. As the communities become more and more comfortable with mask-wearing and trusting of the security and health safety measures in place, it is feasible that the instance of people making honest mistakes while attempting to mask and exposing themselves could be a greater community risk than just non-mask wearers alone.

Non-Compliant Maskers are not just the rural East

We found no statistically relevant deviations in mask use between Eastern Washington and Western Washington. We even took it a step farther and broke out Western Washington to King County and North, and Pierce County and South and still found no real deviations to highlight. Mask use (and non-use) is the same across our state. We are all in this together.

While mask use doesn't seem to be matching the assumptions we may come to when consuming current media stories, our findings from statement tests reinforce assumptions being made in our communities

In testing attitudinal preferences; we asked respondents to rate their agreement on a scale of 1 to 5 with a series of dichotomy statements. A score of 1 represented the more “liberal” general line of public opinion, and a score of 5 represented the more “conservative” line of public opinion. Our testing included 5 sets of questions:

  • Anyone can get infected (1) VS I'm not at much risk for infection (5)
  • I don't have a medical condition/mask use does not negatively affect my medical condition (1) VS I have a medical condition and cannot wear a mask (5)
  • I wear a mask to protect others (1) VS I wear a mask because it is required by mandate (5)
  • Masking is effective to control the spread (1) VS Masking is ineffective to control the spread (5)
  • Remembering to mask up is easy (1) VS I have a hard time remembering masks are needed (5)

Among both regional and age segments, the average score for each of these questions remained between 2.7 and 3.0; leaning liberal and from the public health's perspective in support albeit maybe in reluctance, of masking and face-covering mandates. Not surprisingly, our Non-Compliant respondents were more likely to Strongly Agree (5) with the Statement “I wear a mask because it is required by mandate”, but 3 out of 5 (87 vs 145) of our Non-Compliant respondents also indicated that they Strongly Agree with the statement “Anyone can get infected”. 

It is important when approaching opinions on mask use to not assume that people who do not wear masks do not feel there is a risk for infection, or that people who wear masks only feel there is a risk either to themselves or their community.

Mask use is a complicated issue!

Looking to the future, finding non-maskers for specific studies on mask use is going to be more and more difficult

What we typically see in screeners for studies are simple questions asking respondents to admit their projected mask use; a question like this one we included in this study:

Thinking about your activities in the past 5 days, when entering public spaces or in situations where you were unable to maintain proper social distancing from others, how often would you say you have worn a mask?

While the design of the question appears correct and should allow one to classify respondents based on their answers on use, we find that most select “All of the time” and “Most of the time”. If we group responses to include “All of the time”, “Most of the time” and “About half of the time” as mask users, then statewide we can say only 8.26% of the population in our respondent panel does not wear a mask regularly. Imagine trying to market to, or find respondents when less than 1 out of 10 are the target market!

At this question, we do find one significant difference between Eastern Washington and Western Washington. Eastern Washington respondents fall into this general “non-masker” category at 12.82% VS 5.03% and 7.69% in the Western Washington region. This difference though is still not large enough to inspire us to think that there needs to be any different campaign or messaging towards these populations; the variation just isn't stark enough.

We will continue to review the data we collect through our research activities and sincerely feel that this data has even more to show us as we dig into it deeper and evaluate individual responses to inform our internal recruiting and research activities.

Would you like to examine another study on this topic?

We found this nationwide tracking study report from Acupoll Precision Research about Cognitive Biases and Consumer’s COVID reactions to be insightful and additive to the assumptions we’ve summarized in this report.

“Statistical analysis suggests four COVID attitudinal factors – reflecting fear, self-assurance, confident compliance, and skeptical non-compliance- underlie variation in mask wearing behavior.”


“Mask Avoiders do perceive the thread of Coronavirus to their safety, community health, and the economy – but these are superseded by perceptions that the virus threatens American values, traditions, and freedoms. This yields insight for re-framing the debate and encouraging mask use.”

We were not involved with, nor did we sponsor the research in this report.