COVID-19 and Asian Americans: How Elite Messaging and Social Exclusion Shape Partisan Attitudes

COVID-19 and Asian Americans: How Elite Messaging and Social Exclusion Shape Partisan Attitudes

By Nathan Kar Ming Chan, University of California, Irvine, Jae Yeon Kim, University of California, Berkley, and Vivien Leung, Bucknell University

Extending theories of social exclusion and elite messaging, we argue that Trump’s targeted rhetoric toward Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic pushes the racial group, largely “Independent” or nonpartisan affiliated, to lean more towards the Democratic Party. We support this claim by combining social media (Study 1) and survey data (Study 2) analysis. Tracing 1.4 million tweets, we find that Trump’s rhetoric has popularized racially charged coronavirus-related terms and that exclusionary, anti-Asian attitudes have increased in the United States since the pandemic began. Next, by analyzing repeated cross-sectional weekly surveys of Asian Americans from July 2019 to May 2020 (n=12,907), we find that the group has leaned more towards the Democratic Party since Trump first made inflammatory remarks towards Asian Americans. Whites, Blacks, and Latina/os, on the other hand, exhibited fewer and less consistent changes in Democratic Party-related attitudes. Our findings suggest that experiences with social exclusion that are driven by elite sources further cement Asian Americans as Democrats.