Mask mandates are easing, even ending, in a number of the places that implemented the toughest Covid restrictions in the United States over the past two years. Earlier this month, a procession of Democratic governors from states such as New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon, New York, Illinois, Nevada, and California all announced they were loosening their pandemic policies in different ways—even as U.S. President Joe Biden and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to support mask usage. “The only science that’s changed in the last two weeks is the political science,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at the U.S. Capitol. "The only data that’s changed in the last two weeks is Democrats’ polling data.” Is that right?

Patrick Murray is the founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, which has been surveying American public opinion about Covid throughout the pandemic. Without knowing what’s causing Democratic governors to loosen restrictions, Murray says their decisions do seem to be “getting them closer to where the public has been moving for the past four months or so.” He sees the politics of Covid as having initially favored Democrats, even shielding them from negative perceptions of their messaging on other issues; but now substantial numbers in their constituencies are shifting views. Some favor lifting or easing restrictions. A greater number are tiring of the ongoing adjustments to policy and want consistency. They tend, Murray finds, to say that America should align on preserving some public-health measures but then stick with them—and only them—even if the virus surges or new strains appear. Democratic leaders are meanwhile starting to realize that Americans are caring more about non-pandemic issues as this year’s U.S. midterm elections get closer.

Graham Vyse: How do you see U.S. public opinion on Covid restrictions changing?

Patrick Murray: It’s been moving in a clear direction: Hardcore anti-vaxxers are being joined by some people who’ve supported lockdowns, social distancing, mask guidelines, and vaccine mandates but are now saying that the ups and downs of this virus—particularly over the past four or five months—suggest it’s time to move on and figure out a way to live with Covid.

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