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Jewish Journal

An Interesting Change

by  David A. Lehrer

April 4, 2012 | 3:20 pm

Yesterday a poll was released that examined “Jewish Values in 2012”. It purports to be the “most comprehensive, representative national study of its kind conducted by a non-Jewish research organization.”  It was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, D C which appears to be a legitimate survey research operation.

The headline making findings of the study include that an overwhelming majority of respondents believe that pursuing “justice” (84%) and “caring for the widow” (80%) are somewhat or very important values that inform their political beliefs and activities. Over 70% say that “tikkun olam” (repairing the world) and “welcoming the stranger” are important values as well. Additionally, nearly twice as many respondents connect their Jewish identity with a commitment to social equality than tie it to support for Israel or religious observance.

What also struck me about the survey is the absence of anti-Semitism from the list of “important Jewish experiences” or from the listing of “most important issues for the 2012 presidential vote” or from the concerns that are the “qualities most important to Jewish identity.” In previous polling that I am familiar with, anti-Semitism, is invariably among the top concerns and priorities of American Jews. 

For example, a 2003 study by the American Jewish Committee found that approximately 66 percent of those surveyed termed anti-Semitism “somewhat of a problem” an additional 29 percent said it is a “very serious problem.” That is, 95% of those surveyed saw anti-Semitism as a matter of concern.

That is in striking contrast to this poll where anti-Semitism doesn’t even make the cut-off for the top five concerns. I have a query pending at the pollsters who conducted this survey to determine whether they chose simply not to probe the issue or if they had a reason, such as non-salience, for why it wasn’t included in their polling instrument.

They polled a significant proportion of younger folks (40% of those surveyed were under 45 years old) which may help explain the seemingly anomalous results.

In the meantime, it’s worth the time to look at the poll and the variety of data that the pollsters uncovered.

When I find out what explains the shift, I’ll update this blog.

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