Featured Research

Assessing anti-Asian attitudes in the USA and Australia

23 August 2021

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and University of Queensland have analysed negative attitudes towards Asian people in both the United States and Australia to better understand the factors that contribute to these prejudices. The findings suggest that race-hatred in the United States can be correlated to political opinion, with more Republican voters expressing negative attitudes towards Asian people, whereas in Australia – a country that is less politically divided – prejudice took on a greater socio-economic dimension.

Instances of anti-Asian hate crime soared during the beginning of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in both the USA and in Australia following news that the virus originated in Wuhan, China. This research, published in the Australian Journal of Social Issues demonstrates the need to investigate and understand the driving forces behind prejudice, and to untangle the factors that drive divisions in society. The lead author on the research paper was Dr Monica Tan of the University of Melbourne who collaborated with Dr Rennie Lee, a Life Course Centre Research Fellow at The University of Queensland and Associate Professor Leah Ruppanner, a Life Course Centre Associate Investigator at the University of Melbourne.

Whilst anti-Asian sentiment had been present in previous disease outbreaks and has origins in past colonial and racist policies, the authors noted that there was a lack of understanding how this sentiment is expressed across different socio-demographic groups, and whether these patterns differ across nations. The research notes both the different political context – with more overt scapegoating of China taking place from then U.S President Donald Trump – and the difference in disease spread and economic consequences in both countries. Using both direct and indirect questions to assess anti-Asian sentiment, the research involved a YouGov survey covering the period of 31 August – 9 September 2020 and included 1375 Australian and 1060 U.S. respondents.

Dr Tan said it was important to ask indirect questions as respondents are less likely to express their discriminatory attitudes toward racial groups, fearing consequences. “We added a list experiment analysis to our survey to look for unconscious bias. This task involved asking respondents whether they would be concerned about attending certain restaurants and listed a range of cuisines, including Chinese.” This data was then linked with a range of socioeconomic factors to demonstrate how anti-Asian sentiment is associated with: political affiliation, age, gender, education, employment status and income groups. Contrary to the researcher’s hypothesis, their study found that there was not a higher prevalence of anti-Asian sentiment in the USA when compared to Australia.

Associate Professor Ruppanner said: “Australia and the US were relatively on par when it came to the amount of anti-Asian sentiment within those countries. However, the big difference was in which demographics expressed these opinions. Interestingly for us, whilst Republicans were far more likely than Democrats in America to display anti-Asian sentiment, they were less likely to say that they would avoid Chinese restaurants on health grounds. This could be because whilst President Trump produced very anti-Chinese rhetoric, many Republicans were suspicious of COVID-19 as a legitimate health concern.”

In contrast to the USA where there was a strong relationship between political affiliation and anti-Asian sentiment, in Australia these negative attitudes were more closely associated with three factors suggesting that women, less educated individuals and individuals in the middle-income bracket were more likely to share anti-Asian bias. “These results may reflect the greater economic hardships that these groups faced during COVID-19 lockdowns,” said Associate Professor Ruppanner. “The results show that anti-Asian bias is associated with economic conditions, political rhetoric and media context – and this helps us to see what areas need to be focussed on to create a more tolerant society. “Our study shows that there is work to be done to reduce instances of anti-Asian behaviours. There is a need for anti-discrimination policies and greater resources for policing and bystander training, and community-centred approaches to increase awareness. It’s also important for work to be done on removing false or misleading information, especially on social media platforms, and that may help to curb misleading information about Asians and COVID-19.”

The research demonstrates the need to investigate and understand the driving forces behind prejudice, and to untangle the factors that drive divisions in society. Picture: Xavier Lorenzo/iStock