Exclusive: 1 in 4 Americans have seen Asians blamed for the coronavirus in recent weeks

WASHINGTON – One in four Americans, including nearly half of Asian Americans, in recent weeks have seen someone blame Asian people for the coronavirus epidemic, a new USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll finds.

The nationwide survey was taken Thursday and Friday, in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Georgia of eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. Reports across the country of physical assaults and verbal abuse against Asian Americans have spiked during the yearlong pandemic.

“My friend went to the supermarket and got bullied,” said Pong Rattanakosum, 45, a health care worker from Los Angeles and an American of Thai descent who was polled. When he heard about the shooting in Georgia, “I felt, like, anger, and also anxious,” he said in a follow-up interview. 

Jesus Estrella, of Kennesaw, Ga., stands outside Youngs Asian Massage on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Acworth, Ga., where four people were fatally shot Tuesday. (Photo: Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

While a 57% majority of Americans describe the coronavirus pandemic as a natural disaster, 43% say they believe a particular organization or people is responsible. In response to an open-ended question, most in that group specified China, comprising nearly 1 in 4 of the total survey. 

The online poll of 1,195 adults has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

“China released it, so the buck has to stop there,” said Joanne Von Prisk, 78, a retired customer service manager from Sun City, Arizona, who is white. “I don’t know … that it was accidental or it was intentional,” she added. “It should have been contained and dealt with there.”

There were sharp partisan differences in perceptions.

Partisan, racial differences

Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to hold a specific group or organization responsible for the pandemic. And Democrats were almost twice as likely as Republicans to report having witnessed Asian people being blamed for the pandemic during the past month.

Race and ethnicity were a divide as well: 18% of whites, 34% of Hispanics, 40% of Blacks and 46% of Asian Americans said they had seen someone blaming Asian people.

“A year into the coronavirus pandemic, and Americans continue to blame China for the outbreak, particularly Republicans,” said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos. “With such ongoing scapegoating, it is not a surprise that 1 in 4 Americans report seeing anti-Asian harassment.”

An academic study published in the American Journal of Public Health last week showed the impact of then-President Donald Trump labeling the pandemic the “Chinese virus” during its early weeks. When he first used the hashtag #chinesevirus on Twitter in March 2020, the number of people using it exploded, and they were much more likely to use explicitly anti-Asian hashtags than those who used #covid19 in tweets.

“The previous administration, you know, they would openly say ‘Chinese virus,'” said Shirin Bhasin, 44, of Milwaukee, an Indian American who works in human resources. She was among those surveyed. “So they have sort of instilled in people that it’s to do with China, it’s to do with the Chinese people.” 

Reports of violence have exposed bias against Asian Americans that has long existed but not always been recognized, she said. “It has brought more awareness, and people who were just living under the rock thinking that there was no racism – some of my colleagues, their eyes have opened up.” 

But Bobby Colvin, 74, a mango grower from Pahokee, Florida, who is white, accuses the news media of hyping reports of attacks on Asian Americans. “I haven’t seen it,” he said. “I don’t believe it at all.”

Changes from April 2020 to now

In an Ipsos poll taken last April, one-third of those surveyed reported having seen Asians being blamed for the pandemic, seven points higher than in the new survey.

However, the change in attitudes over the past year about coming into close contact with someone of Asian descent is complicated. The number who express fear about being near someone of Asian ancestry is relatively unchanged, at 21%. But the percentage concerned about being close to an Asian American who isn’t wearing a mask or other protective gear rose 8 points, to a 54% majority.

There was no such significant shift in views about being close to people in general who weren’t wearing protective gear.

Stefanie Brummitt, 33, of Mechanicsville, Maryland, who is white, calls the effort to blame Asians “really ignorant,” but she recognizes that it is happening.

“My 9-year-old son told me he’s not in school because it’s China’s fault and it’s the Chinese people’s fault,” she said. “I was livid.”

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