Mask or no mask? Blue or red county? A look at how those answers line up

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Many of the counties with the highest percentages of people who say they never wear facial coverings in public are counties won by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, a CBS 17 News data analysis found.

In an attempt to quantify the politicization of mask usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, CBS 17 News used North Carolina-specific survey data gathered by The New York Times and market research firm Dynata estimating mask usage by county across the country earlier this month.

That information was compared to the state Board of Elections’ county-by-county voting results from the presidential election four years ago, with each county color-coded red or blue based on which major-party candidate — Trump, a Republican, or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — received a higher percentage of votes.

Respondents to the mask survey were asked how often they wear a mask in public when they expect to be within 6 feet of another person, and were given five choices: Never, rarely, sometimes, frequently or always.

CBS 17 News found that 26 of the 30 counties with the most people saying they never wear masks were won by Trump.

Meanwhile, 11 of the 19 counties with the most people saying they always wear masks were won by Clinton. Put another way, the 11 counties represent nearly half of the 24 Clinton carried in that election. The other 76 of the state’s 100 counties went for Trump.

Wearing — or not wearing — masks has become a political statement in recent months.

The first public sighting of Trump in a mask didn’t come until July 11, when he visited soldiers and healthcare workers at a military hospital. He has since tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask, calling the act patriotic.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said last month that “we have to take the politics out of all of this.”

The correlation between mask-wearing and presidential choice was strongest at one extreme: The percentage of voters choosing Clinton was highest in Durham and Orange counties — where she received more than 70 percent of votes in both. 

In Durham County, 83.2 percent of people responded that they always wear masks, the highest total in the state, with Orange County second at 80.1 percent.

The county that leaned heaviest toward Trump in 2016 was Graham County, where he received nearly 79 percent of votes. In that county, 9.5 percent of people responded that they never wear masks — ranking 15th of 100 counties on that list.

There were exceptions: The percent of people always wearing masks in Person, Franklin and Wayne counties were each above 74 percent, ranking in the top six in the state. Trump won all three counties by at least 12 percentage points.

And Clinton had 53 percent of the votes in Scotland County, where 13.7 percent of the respondents to the mask survey said they never wear them — the sixth-highest number in the state.

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