State officials unveiled a new poll on Wednesday, July 8 that provides a snapshot of Arkansas residents’ attitudes toward the COVID-19 pandemic and the guidelines governing the recovery.
According to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force chairman Steuart Walton commissioned a survey of Arkansas residents and their attitudes toward COVID-19 and the measures taken to resolve the ongoing crisis. “Steuart had the suggestion and he initiated a statewide survey that I wanted him to present in more detail,” Hutchinson said. “It’s really important data that helps us understand public attitudes.”
The survey, conducted by Gilmore Strategy Group, consists of 600 live telephone interviews that were conducted June 29-30. The interviews were “stratified by county” and aimed to reflect past census numbers. Gilmore Strategy Group is a political consulting and lobbying firm founded by Hutchinson’s former deputy chief of staff Jon Gilmore.
“You have to remember – this is broadly focused to capture the adult population of Arkansas as it is understood from the 2019 Census. We broke down age, race, geographic location – all based on the 2019 Census, and that’s how the survey was conducted,” Walton said.
Eighty-two percent of the survey participants reported that they wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks in public. At 82 percent of 600, this breaks down to 492 individuals who responded that they wear masks or other PPE in public. There were 16 percent of respondents, or 96 individuals, who said they do not wear PPE in public. The other 2 percent responded that they didn’t know or couldn’t answer.
However, Hutchinson later emphasized that he interpreted the data as meaning that more Arkansans are wearing masks, but they are not necessarily wearing masks every time they step out into public.
Walton further broke this data down, looking at the age ranges and the responses given. The 65+ age bracket gave the highest affirmative answers for wearing masks and other equipment with 91 percent in that bracket saying that they wore masks and only 7 percent saying they did not. Usage of masks declined as the age range decreased. The 45-54 and 55-64 age ranges both had the same responses with 85 percent of survey participants in those brackets saying they wore masks and 13 percent saying they did not. The 35-44 age range dipped slightly to 82 percent wearing masks and 17 percent not wearing masks. There was another drop for the 25-34 age range with 78 percent wearing masks and 20 percent not. The biggest drop came for the 18-24 age range with only 67 percent of the bracket saying that they wore masks/PPE in public with 33 percent saying they did not.
The age data in relation to mask/PPE usage was unsurprising to Walton, based on data previously collected and reported. “That is sort of what you’d expect to see across the board,” he said.
Not only are a majority of the survey participants wearing masks in public, but the majority believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is the primary issue in the state. Forty-two percent said the pandemic was the most important issue facing Arkansas at the moment, followed by 18 percent saying the economy was the most important.
“Normally, the economy is the number one issue in Arkansas. Obviously, that’s not the case here, but if you think about the Economic Recovery Task Force, you can kind of blend those top two together and you’re looking at 60 percent of the population think that COVID-19 and this interlinked economic crisis is the most important issue facing Arkansas. It’s just really, I think, on the minds of Arkansas. They’re learning about it, they’re reading about it, they’re consuming news about it. It is as big a deal as it seems to be day-in and day-out,” Walton said.
Of the remaining issues polled, there were seven percent of respondents who said social issues were the most important issue facing the state, as well as seven percent who said government. Six percent said crime was the most important issue with three percent saying education and two percent saying taxes.
The survey also posed questions about upcoming large-scale events, including sports events and schooling, and individuals’ outlooks on them. For large-scale events like college sporting events, a majority were opposed to these events resuming in the fall. Of the total polled, 54 percent opposed the fall resumption with 37 percent strongly opposing. There were 37 percent of participants who were in favor of events resuming with 19 percent strongly in favor.
Returning to school in the fall has become a hot-button topic, and one the survey measured. There were 59 percent of the participants who are likely returning students to school for in-person instruction. In total, 49 percent are “very likely” to send their children back for in-person instruction. Meanwhile, there were 32 percent of survey participants who said there were unlikely to send children back for in-person schooling. Of that total, 23 percent said they were “very unlikely” to send their children back. Nine percent responded that they did not know or the question was not applicable.
“I think that’s positive. The flip side of that coin, though, is that if you asked this in a non-COVID environment, your ‘Likely’ would be 100 percent or 99 point whatever, right? The fact that it is this bifurcated, to me…shows a lot of concern out there,” Walton said.