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 1992.
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.
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 anti-Semitic belief."
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 follows:
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?"
Declining Acceptance of Nearly All Anti-Jewish Stereotypes
There has been a decline in the level of acceptance of nearly all anti-Jewish stereotypes since 1992.
The previous anti-Semitism studies showed that acceptance of classic ethical stereotypes traditionally attributed to Jews had steadily declined from 1964 to 1992, but that this decline was accompanied by a rise in acceptance of the notion that Jews had too much power in the U.S. The 1998 survey finds a fall-off in acceptance of both strains of anti-Jewish sentiment.
The biggest drop since 1992 has come on statements about the perceived level of power Jews have in American society:
These declines have been accompanied by further drops in the percentage of Americans accepting some of the more classic negative stereotypes about Jewish business practices:
The proportion of Americans agreeing with nearly every other anti-Jewish statement tested is also down from 1992:
The one question on which the level of acceptance has increased from 1992 to 1998 is that Jews "stick together" more than other Americans. This is clearly among the least offensive of the various anti-Jewish attributes tested and, as the 1992 study pointed out, is not always considered to be a negative characteristic. Among certain segments of the population, "sticking together" is considered to be a positive attribute.
Several questions in the survey addressed public perceptions about the level of Jewish influence or control over Hollywood and the news media. The proportion of Americans who believe that Jews "have too much influence over the American news media" is down to 12% in 1998, from 17% in 1992. At the same time, there has been a slight increase, to 24% from 21%, in the percentage of Americans who feel that "the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jewish executives."
Other results in the survey indicate that much of the public is critical of the role TV and movie executives are playing in American society. A solid majority (63%) agrees with the notion that "the people who run the TV networks and the major movie studios do not share the moral and religious beliefs of most Americans."
But the public overwhelmingly rejects the idea that the programming decisions of network executives are influenced by the fact that they might be Jewish. Fewer than one-in-ten (9%) Americans believe that "network executives who are Jewish tend to allow more sex and violence programming than non-Jewish executives."
A similar question about the perceived lack of more "Christian-oriented" television programs provokes essentially the same response. Fewer than one-in-ten (9%) Americans feel that "the executives of the three major [TV] networks may be blocking Christian-oriented programming because they are Jewish."
Positive Images of Jews
While this study, like the past ones, is focused primarily on the level of acceptance of negative stereotypes, it is important to note that a majority of Americans accept each of the positive statements about Jews which was presented in the survey.
In fact, as was seen in past studies, positive images of Jews are so prevalent that a majority of even the most anti-Semitic Americans accept four of the five positive statements which were included in the 1998 survey.
This has been a consistent finding since the 1964 study, and is not as contradictory as it may seem at first glance. As the Tenacity of Prejudice, a book based on the 1964 survey, points out: "It is in the nature of prejudice that positive beliefs coexist with negative ones."
Overall, more than four-in-five Americans believe that Jews are "just as honest as other businessmen" (85%); that they "have a strong faith in God" (83%); and that they are "warm and friendly people" (82%). A majority of Americans also believe that Jews "have contributed much to the cultural life of America" (73%) and that "because of theirhistory, Jews have a special commitment to social justice and civil rights" (61%).
Among the most anti-Semitic group of Americans, 75% believe that Jews have a strong faith in God; 64% believe they have contributed much to the cultural life of America; 61% believe Jews are warm and friendly; and 61% believe they have a special commitment to social justice. As previous surveys have shown, only on the issue of honesty does this majority fall away; 49% of the most anti-Semitic Americans say they Jews are just as honest as other businessmen, while 46% way they are not as honest.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Anti-Semitism and Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance
There is a high correlation between anti-Semitism and a lack of tolerance on other social issues.
The current study reaffirms one of the more significant findings from the three previous surveys: that there is a strong correlation between anti-Semitism and racism, xenophobia and intolerance of diversity.
In other words, those Americans who are most likely to have negative attitudes toward Jews are also noticeably more likely than the rest of the population to hold intolerant beliefs about other groups, such as immigrants, gays or people of other races.
As the chart on the following page shows, the most anti-Semitic Americans tend to be less tolerant than the public at large on issues related to:
Anti-Semitism and Political and Economic Alienation
Political and economic alienation have only a modest connection to anti-Semitism.
Confirming the three previous studies, the 1998 poll finds that political and economic alienation appear to have only a modest impact on an individual's propensity to accept anti-Jewish stereotypes.
As the 1992 study pointed out, no poll can determine whether a dramatic change in the economic or political climate of the country could trigger an increase in overt anti-Semitism. But the current survey shows only a small correlation between anti-Semitism and political alienation or economic distress.
The chart on the following page shows that the more anti-Semitic someone is, the more likely they are to:
The most anti-Semitic group of Americans is also somewhat more likely than the rest of the public to:
Worry that they or someone in their household might lose their job in the near future.
Anti-Semitism and Attitudes Toward Israel
The most anti-Semitic Americans have a more negative attitude toward Israel than does the rest of the U.S. public.
Confirming what the 1992 study showed, the most anti-Semitic group of Americans holds a significantly more negative view of Israel and the Israeli government than does the rest of the public.
For instance, the most anti-Semitic group is much more apt to have an unfavorable (49%) than favorable (28%) impression of the current Israeli government, while among the rest of the public, reaction to the Israeli government is split almost evenly (34% favorable to 32% unfavorable).
On a range of other questions detailed in the chart on the following page, the most anti-Semitic Americans are more likely than everyone else to:
Interviews for the base sample of 999 American adults age 18 and older were conducted by telephone between October 12 and 21, 1998. Interviews for an additional oversample of 331 black Americans were conducted by telephone between October 12 and 21, and October 31 and November 1, 1998. The oversample of black respondents, which resulted in a total of 400 completed interviews among African- Americans, was carried out to increase the reliability of the results obtained within this subgroup.
The margin of sampling error for the overall survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The margin is slightly higher among the various subgroups.