Few Americans think COVID is a big risk, but half are still more comfortable wearing masks

In less than five minutes of reading time we’ll give you all the data and context you need to get you up to speed on Ipsos’ latest wave of the Coronavirus Consumer Tracker.

The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends and Foresight Lab
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Here’s what we know today from the Ipsos Coronavirus Consumer Tracker:

  • Our threat level continues to creep downward, with only 26% saying they feel COVID poses a high threat.
  • 26% also say their concern over personally contracting COVID has decreased
  • The IPAC continues to rebalance toward a higher degree of comfort.
  • People feel that inflation is still growing, with consistently high groups of people saying their expenses across a broad group of products are growing. Notably, 64% now say their total household expenses are up, a jump from Wave 45.
  • Only one in five (20%) say their financial situation has improved since the start of the pandemic, but that’s higher than other times we’ve asked.

Read on for data about: Our comfort levels, shopping sprees, schools, mask and vax requirements and what we mean when we say “freedom.”

Masks and vaccine mandates

Why we asked: Between the courts striking down mandates, Democrat governors in the east dropping them and the ongoing protests in Canada, mask mandates are very much in the news. The vocal anti-mask minority is complaining loudly as rapidly shrinking caseloads and rapidly rising “we’re over it” sentiment signals that we’re entering a new phase. Hopefully, the pandemic is moving out of its terrible twos and receding – rather than evolving into some sort of variant version of what toddler parents call the “threenager” phase.

What we found: This is a question we’ve asked a few times, mostly last summer when things were at their most hopeful and later as fears of what would become the delta wave and both anti-vax and anti-anti-vax sentiment were rising. Today, about half of Americans would be more comfortable out shopping if a variety of mask and vaccine requirements were in place. Fewer people say they want to go by an honor system that would require masks for unvaccinated people, nor do many people want proof of vaccines required from everyone. But “no masks for everyone” is still the least popular option. Even among Republicans, about half say they would be less comfortable in that situation.

fewer but still most want mask mandates

The IPAC

What we found: Every wave we ask a series of questions to chart the progress of how we’re coping with the pandemic. This wave saw some interesting shifts worth highlighting. There was a noticeable drop in “adjustment” and “acclimation” and a corresponding increase in the positive, improving side in “rebuilding” and “settling in.” We seem to be moving toward a new comfort level, back to where we were before the massive December omicron spike. Given current trends, that will probably continue to correct and with some luck maybe we’ll get back to the halcyon days of last June.

IPAC

Masks in schools

Why we asked: Mask mandates are relaxing even in schools, but it’s a work-in-progress and happening community by community.

What we found: The situation in schools hasn’t changed much from previous waves. About half of parents say there have been cases in their children’s schools. Nearly four in ten say there have been cases in their child’s classroom, a number which jumped during omicron. And just over half say their children are required to wear masks in the classroom – a number which dropped a bit after the start of the school year but has remained flat since then. We’ll come back to this soon and expect that number to change – but by how much?

Shopping

Why we asked: Do we have pent-up demand for some big-ticket shopping? As things start to hint at opening up again soon, are we looking to spend?

What we found: Across a spread of major purchases, there isn’t much change since we asked this back in May 2021. Slightly fewer are going to start a home renovation project, slightly more are realizing that maybe it’s time to buy something other than hoodies and yoga pants and pick up some new clothing items. Anec-data-ly, I was talking to a personal shopper for a national department store chain; she said that her colleagues still feel buying is occasion-based (people going to weddings, corporate events, etc.) but that those events are starting to uptick. Overall, people still aren’t really shopping and when they do, she said, they keep having their cards declined as possible fraud because people haven’t used their cards in so long at real stores.

Few expect big purchases

Is it safe to go back in the water?

Why we asked: As restrictions seem to be starting to loosen, we thought it would be a good time to check in on how we’re feeling about various out-of-home activities and travel.

What we found: While more people feel comfortable doing things than in recent waves, the numbers still aren’t that high. Barely 50% say they are more comfortable going to a grocery store, visiting a friend’s home or dining outside than a month ago. Many more are willing to fly or take a taxi, but that’s only about one in four.

We're more ready to reenter the world

Freedom’s just another word?

Why we asked: The Canadian truckers proclaimed that their rallies are about “Freedom.” Others feel that freedom is about being able to move about more freely, knowing that people are vaccinated and/or wearing masks and that if they leave the house they have little risk of infection. That’s a tension. Having read Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” (you should, too), we know that people can use the same important words to mean different things.

What we found: Overall, when forced to choose between “protecting the common good” vs. “protecting personal liberty,” people lean 65% to 35% toward protecting the common good. But that obscures a pretty solid partisan split. When asked specifically as it relates to vaccines or masking, we see similar splits. These are questions we asked back in August with USA Today and, if anything, we see the Democrats shifting a couple of points toward personal liberty.

Collective good vs personal freedom

Signals

Here’s what we’re reading this week that has us thinking about the future.

  • The power grid problem: Turns out the system by which solar and wind energy projects get approved to hook into the power grid is broken and back-logged, slowing the growth of green energy in the U.S. (via MarketPlace)
  • The Green economy: Small manufacturing towns that were battered by auto plant closures are finding new life building the batteries to power electric vehicles. (via BridgeMI)
  • Bored Apes unmasked (and did Bieber buy one?): An investigation shows it’s not all that hard to remove the anonymity from some crypto transactions. And that some of the buzzy, hyped transactions in NFT-land are not what they seem. (via Buzzfeed)
  • Utah is building a 15-minute city: The idea of cities where you can get anywhere you need within a few minutes is taking off (c.f. Paris) and one Utah developer wants to build one from scratch. (via Streetsblog)

For complete toplines for all waves, please see the full data and methodology.

The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends and Foresight Lab

Consumer & Shopper