Poll: Asian-Americans See Individuals' Prejudice As Big Discrimination Problem

Dec 5, 2017

New results from an NPR survey show that large numbers of Asian-Americans experience and perceive discrimination in many areas of their daily lives. This happens despite their having average incomes that outpace other racial, ethnic and identity groups.

The poll, a collaboration among NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, also finds a wide gap between immigrant and nonimmigrant Asian-Americans in reporting discrimination experiences, including violence and harassment.

"Our poll shows that Asian-American families have the highest average income among the groups we've surveyed, and yet the poll still finds that Asian-Americans experience persistent discrimination in housing, jobs and at college," says Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard Chan School who co-directed the survey. "Over the course of our series, we are seeing again and again that income is not a shield from discrimination."

In addition to asking about personal experiences with discrimination, we also wanted to find out what people's perceptions are of discrimination within their own neighborhoods. The numbers for Asian-Americans were lower on this measure than for personal experiences but still show that a notable level of discrimination exists in everyday life.

The survey was conducted among a nationally representative probability-based telephone (cell and landline) sample of 500 Asian-American adults. The margin of error for the total Asian-American response is 5.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval. Interviews were conducted in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese. Complete methodological information is in the full poll report.

Looking at the split according to immigration status, we found that nonimmigrant Asian-Americans are more than three times as likely to say they've experienced violence because they are Asian and more than twice as likely to say they've been threatened or nonsexually harassed because they are Asian.

We also saw a similar gap based on immigration status in terms of experiencing sexual harassment. But it's important to note that our poll was done earlier this year, before the country's widespread discussions of sexual assault and harassment in the fall. "These national conversations may have affected how people viewed or responded to their own experiences, or on their willingness to disclose these experiences in a survey," Blendon says.

When it comes to health care, the immigrant-nonimmigrant split was reversed, with immigrants being 17 times more likely than nonimmigrants to report experiencing discrimination because they are Asian.

Overall, Asian-Americans commonly report experiencing insensitive or offensive comments, negative assumptions or slurs. But they infrequently report the experience of having other people be afraid of them because of their race.

Regarding treatment by the police or by the court system, about 1 in 10 Asian-Americans report that they or a family member have been unfairly stopped or treated by the police because they are Asian. But when we sorted the results by ethnicity, Indian-Americans reported unfair stops or treatment eight times more often than Chinese-Americans.

Discrimination takes on many forms, both institutional and personal. In the survey, a large majority of Asian-Americans said discrimination by individuals is a bigger problem than discrimination in laws or the government.

Some important notes on our survey:

We asked people to identify their ethnicity, and our data is sorted as follows. But in several cases, the number of respondents was insufficient to include in our breakouts along ethnic lines. In the full report, "Southeast Asian American" includes respondents who said their families are Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian or Malaysian. "Chinese Americans" refers to Asian-Americans of Chinese heritage, but not those who identified as Taiwanese. Asian-Americans who say their families are from the Indian subcontinent are referred to as "Indian American," not to be confused with Native Americans, whose experiences are covered in a separate report in this series. These three groups (Southeast Asian, Chinese and Indian) are not exhaustive of the entire Asian-American sample. Individuals from other subgroups (e.g., Taiwanese Americans) are included in the total sample ("All Asian-Americans") but are not analyzed separately because of insufficient sample size.

The survey was conducted Jan. 26 to April 9, 2017, among a nationally representative, probability-based telephone (cell and landline) sample of 3,453 adults age 18 or older. The survey included nationally representative samples of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and white Americans; men and women; and LGBTQ adults. This report presents the results specifically for a nationally representative probability sample of 500 Asian-American U.S. adults. Separate reports analyze other individual groups, and the final report will discuss major highlights from the series.

Our ongoing series "You, Me and Them: Experiencing Discrimination in America" is based in part on a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. We have previously released results for African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, whites and LGBTQ adults. We will release results by gender later this month.

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