Was the Auckland Council survey racist?

By Professors Colleen Ward and James Liu

7 May 2014

Auckland City

Why has the recent survey by Auckland Council about feelings towards a range of ethnic groups been viewed as racist, discriminatory and divisive as reported by Matthew Theunissen in the New Zealand Herald on 4 May (‘Council’s divisive survey slammed’)

Surveys such as this are not racist though responses to the questions may be. And if the responses are racist, it is important for us to know.

The “feelings thermometer” in the Auckland Council questionnaire is a common survey technique that has been used in social science research for over 50 years to assess attitudes and feelings toward a wide variety of social groups. This type of technique has been used in numerous studies of ethnic relations in New Zealand, as well as Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States.

Recent research using the “feelings thermometer” has shown that relations with ethnic out-groups are generally warm, which is a good thing. However, research has also shown that feelings towards Asian peoples are somewhat less positive than feelings toward Maori, Pakeha and Pasifika.

With that knowledge we can explore ways to enhance relations with our culturally diverse neighbours and colleagues for the benefits of all. Without research-grounded knowledge about ethnic perceptions and relations, New Zealand can be vulnerable to increased instances of racism and discrimination.

New Zealand is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the OECD and for the most part, New Zealanders are more accepting of diversity and welcoming to new migrants than citizens of any European Union country. We know this because of research undertaken in New Zealand and internationally.

Studies such as the planned Auckland Council research inform policy and planning across a range of areas, including health, education, and employment, for the betterment of the city as a whole.

Source: Letter to the Editor, NZ Herald, 7 May 2014

Read more: Political correctness gone mad: The issues of the 'racist' survey in Auckland by Dr Ron Fischer


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Ward, C., & Masgoret, A.-M. (2008). Attitudes toward immigrants, immigration and multiculturalism in New Zealand. International Migration Review, 42, 222-243.