Anti-Semitism and Prejudice in America
Highlights from an ADL Survey - November 1998

How Prevalent is Anti-Semitism in America?
Declining Acceptance of Nearly All Anti-Jewish Stereotypes
Which Americans are Most Likely to Hold Anti-Semitic Views?
Anti-Semitism and Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance
Anti-Semitism and Political and Economic Alienation
Anti-Semitism and Attitudes Toward Israel
Survey Methodology

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Which Americans are Most Likely to Hold
Anti-Semitic Views

As previous studies have shown, the propensity to hold anti-Jewish stereotypes is concentrated among less educated and older Americans.

The latest survey reaffirms what all three past studies have shown -- that anti-Semitic beliefs are most likely to be found among older Americans (those over age 65), and among those with no college education.

Education and Anti-Semitism

A multivariate regression analysis of the 1998 survey indicates that there is a very strong correlation between education level and likelihood of accepting anti-Jewish stereotypes. Simply put, the more-educated someone is, the less likely they are to accept anti-Semitic beliefs.

For example, only one-in-twenty (5%) college graduates fall into the most anti-Semitic category in the 1998 survey, compared to about one-in-five (18%) citizens who have no more than a high school education.

As the accompanying chart shows, the downward trend since 1992 in the acceptance of anti-Semitic beliefs is reflected across all education levels, with drops of between 7 and 10 points in the percentage of adults at each education level who fall into the most anti-Semitic group.

Age and Anti-Semitism

In the three previous studies, age has been one of the strongest demographic predictors for anti-Semitic beliefs. Although it is less of a factor in the current study, anti-Semitic beliefs continue to be noticeably more prevalent among the elderly than among the rest of the adult population.

Those adults over age 65 remain twice as likely as those under 65 to fall into the most anti-Semitic category. The current survey shows that 22% of Americans age 65 or older are in the most anti-Semitic group, compared to 10% of those under 65.

Both these figures are down from 1992, when 34% of elderly Americans were in the most anti-Semitic group, versus 17% of those under 65.

As the 1992 study found, the negative images of Jews which continue to linger among elderly Americans include many of the traditional financial and ethical stereotypes that have been largely rejected by the rest of the public.

Four of the seven statements that are accepted by those age 65 and over at a significantly higher level than by younger Americans are:

  • Jews have too much control and influence on Wall Street.
  • Jews have too much power in the business world.
  • Jewish businessmen are so shrewd that others don't have a fair chance in competition.
  • Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices.

The 1998 survey also reaffirms a trend that was discussed in the 1992 study -- namely,that the overall decline in the level of  anti-Semitism in the U.S. over the last three to four decades is a result of two factors related to age:

1.)The gradual passing on of older Americans, who are more likely to hold anti-Jewish attitudes, and the steady and concurrent influx of younger, more tolerant citizens into the adult population; and

2.)A slow but steady change in the attitudes toward Jews among older Americans over their lifetime. Tracking the cohort of Americans who were alive in 1964 through the three subsequent surveys in 1981, 1992 and 1998 reveals a gradual decrease in the propensity of this group to accept anti-Semitic beliefs.

African-Americans continue to be significantly more likely than white Americans to hold anti-Jewish beliefs. As with whites, education level is the most important factor affecting the attitudes of blacks toward Jews.

Confirming the three previous studies, black Americans remain considerably more likely than white Americans to hold anti-Semitic views . In the 1998 survey, blacks (34%) are nearly four times as likely as whites (9%) to fall into the most anti-Semitic category.

The overall level of anti-Semitism among African-Americans (34%) compares to 37% in 1992.  This very slight decline in acceptance of anti-Jewish stereotypes has been significantly slower among blacks than among whites, expanding the racial gap in attitudes toward Jews in 1998.

Impact of Education in the Black Community

The current survey reaffirms the strong correlation between education level and acceptance of anti-Jewish stereotypes among African-Americans.

Among those blacks without any college education, 43% fall into the most anti-Semitic group. This number drops to 27% among African-Americans with some college experience, and stands at 18% among blacks with a four-year college degree.

The overall level of anti-Semitism among all these groups is down from 1992. At the same time, it should be noted that black Americans at all education levels are significantly more likely than whites at the same level to accept anti-Jewish stereotypes.

The most anti-Semitic Americans tend to have less day-to-day contact with Jews than does the rest of the population.

The current survey shows that the most anti-Semitic Americans tend to have less contact with Jews in their day-to-day life than do other Americans.

Only about one-in-four (26%) of the most anti-Semitic Americans report that they come in contact with people of the Jewish faith very or fairly often -- either socially or where they work. Among the "not anti-Semitic" group, by comparison, 45% say they come in contact with Jews at least fairly often.

Similarly, the most anti-Semitic Americans are somewhat less likely to report having Jewish friends or relatives. Fewer than one-in-three (30%) respondents in the most anti-Semitic group say they count at least one Jewish person among their acquaintances, compared to 43% in the not anti-Semitic group.

This finding differs from the 1992 survey, which showed little correlation between aperson's level of contact with Jews and their propensity to hold anti-Semitic beliefs.

Perceptions of Jewish Population in the United States

As the 1992 study showed, Americans significantly overestimate the size of the Jewish population in the U.S. About one-in-five (21%) Americans estimate that Jews comprise less than 10% of the U.S. population (the actual figure is about 2.5%), while 43% put the figure somewhere between 10% and 25%. Roughly one-in-four (23%) Americans estimate that Jews make up more than 25% of the total U.S. population.  The most anti-Semitic Americans are significantly more inclined than others to overestimate the size of the Jewish population, with 37% estimating that Jews comprise more than a quarter of the total U.S. population.

1. Biggest Difference Between Oldest Americans and Rest of Population on Anti-Semitism Index Questions
2. Slight Decline in the Level of Anti-Semitism Among African Americans
3. Trend in Acceptance by Blacks of 11 Questions on Anti-Semitism Index
4. Education Level is the Most Significant Predictor of Anti-Semitism Among Blacks
5. Connection Between Anti-Semitism and Lack of Contact with Jews

Next: Anti-Semitism and Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance

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1999 Anti-Defamation League