How Prevalent is Anti-Semitism in America?
The proportion of Americans holding views
about Jews that are unquestionably anti-Semitic has dropped to 12% in 1998, from 20% in
The 1998 survey reveals that slightly more than one-in-ten
(12%) Americans or between 20 and 25 million adults -- hold a collection of views
about Jews which are unquestionably anti-Semitic.
The number of Americans within this "most
anti-Semitic" segment of the population has been steadily declining over the last
three decades. For purposes of comparison, a 1964 ADL survey showed that about
three-in-ten (29%) Americans held a significant number of anti-Semitic beliefs. That
number declined to 20% in a 1992 study, and is down to 12% in the current survey.
Index of Anti-Semitic Belief
To provide an analytic tool for identifying which Americans
have a propensity to be more prejudiced toward Jews, all four major surveys of
anti-Semitism (1964, 1981, 1992 and 1998) have all used some form of an "index of
The index was developed and first used in conjunction with
the 1964 ADL survey, conducted by researchers at the University of California. The index
groups respondents into one of three categories based upon the number of critical
responses they give to 11 specific questions about American Jews.
There has been some deviation in the way respondents were
grouped in each survey, and there have been slight changes in time in the wording of the
11 questions to keep them relevant and contemporary. But the basic structure of the index
has been retained over all four surveys.
In the 1998 survey, as in 1992, respondents are grouped as
Not Anti-Semitic: People who answer none
or one of the questions with a critical response are considered essentially free of
prejudicial attitudes toward the Jewish community. (53% in 1998 vs. 39% in 1992).
Middle: People who answer between two and
five questions critically are considered to be neither prejudiced nor unprejudiced -- that
is, not completely prejudice-free in their attitudes toward Jews, but not an audience to
be deeply worried about. (35% in 1998 vs. 41% in 1992)
Most Anti-Semitic: The people who answer
six or more questions critically are considered the most anti-Semitic group of Americans,
and have been isolated for special analysis and demographic identification. (12% in 1998
vs. 20% in 1992)
While at least one or two of the 11 questions that comprise the index arguably are
ambiguous in their nature, they have been included in the current study for purposes of
comparison with past research. As the 1992 study pointed out, no public opinion index is a
perfect tool for measuring accurately a complex phenomenon such as anti-Semitism. The real
purpose of the index is not so much for determining what precise number of Americans may
be "anti-Semitic," but rather to help identify the characteristics of those
Americans who clearlyhold more anti-Semitic views than the public at large.
In other words, the index is most useful for answering the question, "Which groups
of Americans tend to be more anti-Semitic?" rather than the question, "How many
Americans are anti-Semitic?"
Next: Declining Acceptance of Nearly All Anti-Jewish Stereotypes