Safety of Live Sporting Events in Doubt This Spring, With Questions of Masks Falling Along Party Lines
By Sara Gavin
Physically distanced fans watch a spring training game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates in Florida on March 22. A new UMD-Post Poll shows many fans are uncomfortable returning even to outdoor games this spring.
Only 42% of Americans would be comfortable attending a sporting event in person right now, and a strong majority (69%) don’t expect sports to safely return to full fan attendance until mid-fall or later, finds a new University of Maryland-Washington Post poll.
The poll, fielded online March 12-18 among a random national sample of 1,500 adults, reflects a new collaboration between The Post and two UMD centers—the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement (CDCE) in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Poll results also show 40% of Americans who have been to live sporting events since 2018 miss attending them “a lot” while another 47% miss going “a little” and 14% don’t miss going at all. Meanwhile, 76% of all respondents said if sports leagues allow fans to attend events this spring, they should be required to wear masks—but the results were split along political party lines.
“Nearly all Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (96%) support a mask requirement for attendees at sporting events, while just over 52% of Republicans and Republican leaners do so,” said government and politics Professor Mike Hanmer, co-director of the poll and CDCE’s research director. “The results make it clear that one cannot look to sports for an escape from partisanship.”
These findings come on the heels of plans released earlier this week by Maryland Athletics to allow a limited number of mask-wearing, physically distanced fans into sporting events for the remainder of the spring season—the first time in-person attendance will be permitted since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
"The poll reveals the uncertainty that fans feel about returning to live sports,” said Povich Center Director Mark Hyman, the inaugural George Solomon Chair in Sports Journalism at Merrill College. “Outdoor venues are seen as safer than arenas. While most say face masks should be required, that would be a major enforcement challenge for teams and leagues."
This latest poll is the first of several planned to examine the intersection of sports, politics and public opinion. Faculty and students from government and politics and journalism will be involved with developing questions and topic ideas for future surveys conducted in collaboration with The Post.
“Given how politics and sports continue to be at the forefront of important national conversations, the two centers can be pivotal voices that will engage in research, education and outreach efforts to better understand how these topics are shaping attitudes about American democracy," said Stella Rouse, CDCE director and an associate professor in the Department of Government and Politics.
Poll results have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. The sample was drawn through SSRS’s probability-based panel, an ongoing survey panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households.
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