July 15, 2020 - 4:30pm

It’s hard to remember a political group viewed with more widespread scorn and contempt than the so-called ‘anti-maskers.’ In the political status hierarchy, these appear to be the new lowest of the low. Grandees from the Left, Centre and Right have lined up in recent days to denounce them in the media for their selfishness and infantile libertarianism.

But while everyone is enjoying lambasting these easy targets, it’s worth asking: how many of them are there in the UK?

Helpfully, YouGov published a poll earlier this week of whether voters think mask-wearing in shops should be compulsory or up to the individual and the particular scenario. The results were intriguing. Quite differently from America, where attitudes to masks align more and more closely with political affiliation, masks are still not a particularly political issue in the UK. Overall, 60% of people think masks should be compulsory in shops and 34% think it should be voluntary, and there’s a similar majority of mask enthusiasts across all groups: 65% of Labour voters, 57% of Tories, 69% of Remain voters, 55% of Leavers. For such a highly charged question, this is an unusually consistent figure.

The first YouGov poll this week

The flip side of these same results, of course, is that those people who prefer a more voluntary approach make up a sizeable minority of every group in the country. In every demographic — not just political but class, age, gender — somewhere between 24% and 42% actively dissent from being forced to wear them in shops (except Liberal Democrat voters who, if there are any left, long since forgot about the ‘liberal’ bit). That means that, in the context of the current debate around masks in shops, whatever your politics, around a third of your own group are probably against. Anti-maskers in your midst!

Curiously, YouGov published and tweeted out a new poll today, which appeared to show very different results. Here’s YouGov’s Chris Curtis:

The huge difference — 60% support has suddenly become 80% support — is explained by the wording. This time the pollsters added ‘while the coronavirus outbreak is still going’ to the question wording. That is what moved it from 60-34 to 80-16 in favour. But an ‘outbreak’ implies something suddenly growing — it is quite hard to describe the current coronavirus situation in the UK as an ‘outbreak’. The synonyms I have found include ‘sudden occurrence’, ‘eruption’, ‘upsurge’, ‘flare-up’. None of these are true today. The levels of Covid-19 in the community have come down so much that it doesn’t even qualify as an epidemic — literally one or two people in every 10,000 as per the ONS study, and it’s lower than it ever has been since the peak.

So it’s worth remembering that, absent slightly dubious wording around ‘outbreaks’, over a third of the population are against this move — and that includes a chunk of almost every tribe you can think of. Including yours…

is the Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, and founder of PoliticsHome.