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Report Reveals That Anti-China, Populist Rhetoric Masks Anti-Democratic Forces in the U.S. and Offers Solutions to Combat It 

WASHINGTON, DC—Justice is Global today released a new report revealing the increasing popularity of politicians who win over working-class voters by using China as a scapegoat for social and economic problems in the U.S. The report details results from a deep canvass in Wisconsin held earlier this year to develop messaging capable of swaying people susceptible to nationalism away from anti-China narratives. Canvassers found that although these narratives have broad appeal in the ordinary public, their grip is not powerful. These narratives can be mitigated by creating connections between the local and global, and fostering a narrative of international cooperation that yields tangible benefits to working people. This messaging can help defend democracy from right-wing nationalist rhetoric while defeating racism and xenophobia.

“We can heal geopolitical tensions at the grassroots in a way that builds international cooperation,” Justice is Global National Organizer Sandy Shan said. “While it’s easy for people ripped off by bad worker policies at home to map their economic anxieties onto those they deem foreign, racist scapegoating will only divide us further. Ahead of the midterms, candidates who want to win should quit China-bashing and instead talk about the root causes of these issues.”

Barriers to international cooperation included:

  • The tendency to express a disconnect from U.S.-China relations or international conflicts;
  • Perceptions about China that reflect people’s mood about the uncertain state of the world as well as deep structural issues;
  • The broad appeal of narratives that cast China as an existential threat to the American way of life; and
  • The Chinese government’s repression and abuse constitutes a major obstacle to supporting U.S.-China cooperation.

Tactics to mitigate racist anti-Asian rhetoric included:

  • Start by understanding what experiences animate people’s views and perspectives;
  • Elicit and share stories that humanize people of Chinese descent, and appeal to a shared longing for belonging and safety;
  • Connect global to local and invite people to imagine a better and cooperative future that yields tangible benefits;
  • Share stories of how great power conflict hurts people; and
  • Affirm valid criticisms about the Chinese government, but ask people to think about whether crudely punitive measures would necessarily lead to desired outcomes.

The deep canvass was held in March and April 2022. Twenty-one canvassers had 608 deep canvass phone conversations with Wisconsinites, where they moved 48% of people towards being in favor of international cooperation. Deep canvasses are candid conversations where canvassers help voters work through challenging topics by sharing personal stories. In 2020, People’s Action found that deep canvassing was 102 times more effective than traditional efforts to influence vote choice in presidential elections. 

How to Counter the Politics of Scapegoating and Heal Geopolitical Divisions at the Grassroots may be accessed here.

Contact: Johanna Kichton, press@peoplesaction.org, 202.660.0605

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Justice is Global is a project of People’s Action to win a more just and sustainable global economy and defeat right-wing nationalism. People’s Action builds the power of poor and working people in urban, rural, and suburban areas to win change through issue fights and elections. We are a national network of 38 state and local grassroots power-building organizations in 28 states–united in the work of building a bigger “we.”

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Press Contact
Johanna Kichton

(202) 660-0605

About People’s Action

People’s Action is a national network of 40 state and local grassroots, power-building organizations united in fighting for justice. Our organization recently released a vision for a national Homes Guarantee that has already prompted major legislation from champions including U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib. We operate the largest progressive rural organizing project in the country. Prior to endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, we completed a national forum series that The Nation called “the most in-depth, people-powered forum” of the 2020 cycle.”

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