Over a month has passed since President Donald Trump vowed to stop using the phrase “Chinese virus” when referring to the current coronavirus that has killed more than 40,000 people in the United States. Despite Trump pulling back on the term, one that many believe fuels xenophobia and encourages anti-Asian sentiment, PRRI data shows the rhetoric has had a lasting impact on some Americans — especially those who trust Fox News the most.
Data shows that though the vast majority of Americans (86%) say the most accurate way to refer to the virus is “Coronavirus,” 11% of Americans say “Chinese virus” is more accurate. Some groups — such as Republicans (20%) and Catholics (20%),— are more likely than others to say “Chinese virus.” More than one in four (27%) of those that most trust Fox News say that the phrase is most accurate, including 30% of Republicans who most trust Fox News. Only 5% of Americans who trust CNN the most and 7% who most trust MSNBC agree with that sentiment.
In March, prior to President Trump’s announcement that he would stop using the phrase, Fox News hosts came to his defense. “When they say the U.S. military were the ones that planted the virus in Wuhan and we are going to withhold drugs from the United States during the pandemic, that’s just crazy and the fact that the president calls it the Chinese virus, he just wants to make sure that there is a little bit of accountability and truth to what happened,” Jesse Waters said. That same day, Trump was photographed holding notes in which he had replaced the word “coronavirus” with “Chinese virus.”
In the weeks since Trump stopped using the phrase, subject matter experts have drawn attention to the racial implications the phrase retains and the anti-Asian incidents it inspires. “I think the recent [surge in hate incidents] is [driven by] the rhetoric that political leaders have been using … but I don’t think we would have seen the spike in anti-Asian bias without a pretty strong foundation rooted in the ‘forever foreigner’ stereotype,” PRRI Public Fellow and University of Maryland professor Janelle Wong recently told Vox. According to Grace Kao, IBM Professor of Sociology at Yale University, the phrase turns Asians into the “physical embodiment” of the disease. “With something like COVID-19, where everyone is scared of catching it, Asian Americans become the physical embodiment of disease, so we’re seen with great suspicion,” Kao explained to The Hill.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Americans overall believed Asian Americans already faced widespread discrimination. “PRRI’s 2018 American Values Survey found that 44% of Americans felt that Asians faced a lot of discrimination in the United States. This includes 41% of white Americans, 46% of black Americans, and 43% of Hispanic Americans,” PRRI’s Jordun Lawrence wrote in March. That number rises to 87% when the question is answered by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Sample size for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is under N=100. Interpret these results with caution.