Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

Shifting or Settled? Tracking Racial Animus During COVID-19

Stewart, Evan; Beckman, Diane
Social Psychology Quarterly

Is racial animus sensitive to social shocks, or is it a disposition that resists change? The early COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by incidents of prejudice and discrimination against the Asian American community in the United States. We investigate whether comparable shifts in public opinion also occurred during this time using survey data fielded through 2019 and 2020. We compare changes in anti-Asian sentiment to changes in anti-Black, anti-Latino, and anti-white sentiment, finding a distinct rise in anti-Asian sentiment starting in January 2020 that slowly returns to 2019 levels. We also compare neutral response options to both positive and negative responses and find polarization in sentiment where partisanship, political interest, and self-reported COVID-19 exposure all associate with a higher likelihood of expressing both positive and negative sentiment relative to neutral responses about Asian Americans. We discuss these findings in line with a theory of racial animus as a disposition that is subject to temporary, episodic activation.