Apr 14, 2022 - Politics

Focus group: Pennsylvania swing voters OK with Philly mask mandate

Illustration of voter button with a face mask.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Pennsylvania swing voters were largely accepting and, in some cases, enthusiastic about Philadelphia's decision to reinstate its mask mandate — the first for a major American city post-Omicron — in our latest Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups.

Why it matters: These voters are still dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, even if COVID isn't their top issue the way it was a few months ago.

Driving the news: This was a key takeaway from two online focus group panels on Tuesday night.

  • They included 13 men and women who live in Pennsylvania and voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but flipped to Joe Biden in 2020. Ten of the 13 live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

Of note: While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters in crucial states are thinking and talking about current events.

State of play: Eight of the 13 participants raised their hands when asked whether they support the city's decision to once again require masks. Their reasoning reflected a desire for collective action to return to normalcy.

  • Only one of the other five participants spoke out about their opposition to mandates generally.

What they're saying: One supporter of the city's move, Judy P., 59, said as someone who lives with an immunocompromised person, "I feel it's the only way to keep everybody safe. ... Everybody should be used to it by now. I just don't feel it's that much of a burden anymore."

  • "I think it actually helps lessen the spread to some degree," said Bill G., 59. "By just asking me when I walk into the bar, 'Put a mask on; when you sit down and have your beer, food, take it off,' that's simple enough, not hard to do."
  • "I want it to be over," said Brian M., 40.
  • The opponent, David V., 40, said, "If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. But don't punish people or shame people who don't want to wear a mask. It's your choice. Do what you want."

The big picture: The vast majority of the participants— 11 of the 13 — don't feel like the pandemic is over. They said they'd need to see case counts drop close to zero for a sustained amount of time or have COVID-era inconveniences, like regular testing for work, end in order to move past it.

  • But only one of the participants said COVID is their top issue now. Ukraine and rising prices were far more common responses.

The bottom line: "Among swing voters in recent months, COVID has morphed from a menacing siren to mere Muzak," said Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the focus groups.

  • "It has faded into the background, but these voters still clearly hear its presence," Thau said.
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