Survey finds broad support for Anchorage’s handling of pandemic

ASL interpreter Colleen Peterson (left) signs for Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz at a press conference on July 10, 2020. (Photo from the Mayor’s Facebook page)

While anti-mask mandate advocates have been a vocal presence in discussions about Anchorage’s COVID-19 health restrictions, public opinion survey data shows a vast majority of Anchorage residents actually favor a mandate. 

The survey, performed by Alaska Survey Research and analyzed by researchers at UAA, shows that 77% of respondents said they either mildly or strongly support the mandate as of July 3. 

But more than 11% said that they would defy the city’s mandate.

The survey is just one component of a $100,000 health education and communication project commissioned by the Municipality of Anchorage that began in May. So far the researchers have performed four surveys and posted highlights on the municipality‘s coronavirus website for three of them, which include advice about how to tailor messaging to effectively reach Anchorage residents.

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Dr. Joy Chavez Mapaye is a communication professor at UAA and one of the researchers involved with the project. She called the COVID-19 issue a “pandemic of misinformation.” 

“Communications in this is really critical,” she said. “You want to get the right messaging out to the right group, in order for folks to understand and know what they need to do.”

That means targeting different groups who may be more at risk than others. In the third of the four surveys conducted so far, researchers found that four groups — men, people under 45 years old, people with children, and Republicans — were more likely to engage in behaviors that could spread the virus.

UAA researchers recommended that the municipality not focus on specific partisan groups, but focus on targeting ideological groups that might be more likely to be taking risks. 

“Remind opposition to COVID-19 guidelines that the enemy is the virus, not each other,” reads one recommendation from a June 19 paper with highlights from the survey. The researchers also said that communicators should focus on Alaska-specific imagery.

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In recent news conferences, Berkowitz has focused on personal responsibility to take safety precautions, as well as Alaska’s current successes in mitigating the virus. 

“We need to exercise the amount of personal responsibility that allows us to stay as open as we have. We need to do what we can to protect our communities our families, and our state,” he said during a news conference last week.

“We need to have the grit to get through this with a degree of toughness and toughness is one of the hallmarks of Alaska is all about.”

So far, those messages seem to be resonating with Anchorage residents. The survey found that most people — about 70% — gave the municipality a five or higher rating on its handling of the crisis.