Taking the measure of prejudice in times of pandemic


Earlier this month, the Lowy Institute released Being Chinese in Australia, one of the largest surveys of the Chinese Australian community. Around the same time, the Scanlon Foundation published its annual report Social Cohesion Mapping Report, which also includes a survey of the Chinese population in Australia. Both surveys reveal that a significant share of Chinese Australians said they had been threatened or attacked in the past year, and many respondents linked their negative experiences to the debate surrounding Covid-19.

These results echo a larger narrative about the rise of anti-Chinese and more broadly anti-Asian sentiment in the context of Covid-19. Originating in Wuhan, China, the Covid-19 pandemic instantly associated itself with China and Asia more broadly, which appears to have led to an increase in cases of discrimination against people of ethnic origin. Asian. Numerous news reports have highlighted racist incidents and, in extreme cases, violent attacks against Asians. While stereotypes linking Asians to the disease are nothing new, especially during epidemics, the origin of Covid-19 has become deeply politicized, once again leading to the scapegoating of people of origin. Asian.

Despite the extensive media coverage, however, there is very little data available to provide a more detailed picture of those who express racial prejudice. This link is crucial to any effort to prevent it from continuing.

To fill this critical gap, we conducted YouGov online panel surveys in Australia and the United States in September 2020. The surveys were designed to collect representative samples of 1,375 adults in Australia and 1,060 in the United States. United.

The central difficulty in exploring racism in academic research is the potential presence of social desirability bias – when asked directly, people may conceal their opinions in order to conform to social norms. In our study, we sought to reduce this potential bias by including both direct and indirect (list experience) questions to ask about respondents’ attitudes towards Asians.

Specifically, using direct questions, we asked respondents to rate how worried they were about catching Covid-19 from Asian Australians/Asian Americans, White Australians/White Americans and African Australians/African Americans. In the list experiment, we randomly assigned respondents to a control or treatment group. The control group was presented with four locations: (1) Italian restaurant, (2) nightclub, (3) gym, and (4) Indian restaurant, while the treatment group also had a fifth item: ( 5) Chinese restaurant.

Despite Australia’s much lower infection rate, higher proportion of Asian diasporas and weaker economic downturn, people are showing slightly greater concern about catching Covid-19 from Australians Asians, compared to their American counterparts and how they view Asian Americans.

Importantly, respondents were not required to say whether they felt concerned about each place, only how many places they avoided for fear of Covid-19. Thus, the sensitive question was asked indirectly in order to obtain more representative answers. Admittedly, this sensitive element that we have included in this survey (i.e. the Chinese restaurant) may not represent the entire Asian population. However, the political rhetoric around Covid-19 was deeply anti-Chinese and so we used this option to determine if this sentiment was internalized by the general population.

We then linked these responses to key socio-economic factors, including political affiliation, age, gender, education, employment status and income, to identify the characteristics of those who are more likely to express racial prejudice.

Our analysis draws several key conclusions. First, despite much better control of the spread of the disease, Australians are slightly more worried about catching Covid-19 from Asian Australians. In direct questions, Australians expressed a higher level of anxiety about catching Covid-19 among Asians, with an average of 2.74 out of 5, compared to 2.53 among Americans (a statistically significant difference). Similarly, the list’s experience suggests that 46% of Australian respondents would have avoided Chinese restaurants for fear of Covid-19, compared to 39% in the US (a difference not statistically significant).

Second, in the United States, the strongest predictor of anti-Asian bias is political affiliation. In Australia, the picture is more complex – anti-Asian prejudice is linked to a wide range of socio-economic factors, including political affiliation, age, gender, employment status and income.

Finally, while the list experiment largely confirms many of the results of the direct questions, they also point to important and interesting differences. When asked directly, we find few differences by age, gender and occupation, indicating that most Australians do not report racial bias about who might carry the disease. However, when asked indirectly as part of our list experiment, we find that young people, women and employees were much more likely to avoid Chinese restaurants under Covid-19. The contrast between the two sets of results indicates the potential presence of social desirability bias and suggests that some of the anti-Asian biases may be unconsciously internalized.

Our results demonstrate the complexity involved in anti-Chinese and more broadly anti-Asian sentiment under Covid-19. For Australia, the worrying sign is that despite a much lower infection rate, a higher proportion of Asian diasporas and a weaker economic downturn, people are showing slightly greater concern about catching Covid-19 from Asian Australians, compared to their American counterparts.

Anti-Asian sentiment is unevenly shared across different demographic groups. However, many may not choose to explicitly express their racial biases. Together, these findings underscore the need for more substantial efforts to document and address the long-standing biases of a Chinese and Asian exclusionary history, as many others have advocated.


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