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NEW YORKERS SHOW HIGH RATES OF ANTISEMITISM... BUT NOT IF THE INTERVIEWER LOOKS JEWISH

In the 1940s, social scientists at Hunter College, Duane Robinson and Sylvia Rohde, carried out an ambitious survey of two-thousand New Yorkers. The survey had two questions:
  1. Do you think there are too many Jews holding government offices and jobs?
  2. Do you think the Jews have too much power?
The findings revealed widespread antisemitism in New York City. What's more, Robinson and Rohde found that the respondents in the survey concealed their antisemitic views, if the person asking the questions looked Jewish. The paper appeared in The Journal of Social and Abnormal Psychology in April 1946, less than a year after the end of World War II. 

Anti-semitic poster in the United States (1939), from the Jewish War Veterans Museum

Robinson and Rohde enlisted the help of students at Hunter College to serve as interviewers. The scientists briefly educated the group on “facial stereotypes of ‘Jewishness’” and held a vote to categorize each interviewer as Jewish or non-Jewish in appearance. For some of the interviews, the students were also told to introduce themselves with a fictitious name (a Jewish or non-Jewish name) that corresponded with their appearance.

“DO YOU THINK THERE ARE TOO MANY JEWS HOLDING GOVERNMENT OFFICES AND JOBS?”
When interviewed by someone who did not look Jewish, 21% of the respondents agreed that there are too many Jews in government positions. But this number dropped to 15% when the interviewer asking the question looked Jewish, and down further to 12% when the interviewer looked Jewish and had a Jewish sounding name.

“DO YOU THINK THE JEWS HAVE TOO MUCH POWER?”
Nearly 25% of respondents said the Jews have too much power when interviewed by someone who did not look Jewish. However, if the interviewer looked Jewish, this number dropped to 16%. If the interviewer looked Jewish and had a Jewish name, a mere 6% said the Jews have too much power.

DIFFERENCES IN ANTI-SEMITISM ACROSS ECONOMIC, EDUCATIONAL, AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS
Robinson and Rohde also had the interviewers ask respondents about their educational level, economic level, and religious affiliation. The researchers found that each variable had an influence on antisemitic responses. Generally, a lower educational or economic level was associated with greater rates of antisemitism. For instance, when interviewed by a non-Jewish looking person, 33% of respondents from a lower economic level said the Jews have too much power, compared to 10% of respondents from an upper economic level.

Next, Robinson and Rohde determined how anti-semitic responses compared across different religions. For some reason, there was a very high percentage of Jewish respondents in the survey (about 40% of respondents were Jewish). The Jewish respondents rarely expressed antisemitic opinions (of course). However, when Jewish respondents were removed from the survey, and the researchers focused on Catholics and Protestants — rates of anti-semitism skyrocketed. 

About 48% of Protestants interviewed by a non-Jewish looking person said they believed the Jews have too much power, compared to 13% when asked by someone who looked Jewish and had a Jewish sounding name. For Catholics it was a little better but still not great — 37% and 9%, respectively.

A CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVE
Memorial for victims of shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (2018), Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

So, that was the 1940s. What about today? The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been tracking antisemitism in the U.S. for decades. The findings of telephone surveys suggest that public opinion has changed quite a bit since the Robinson and Rohde study. 

Between 1992 and 2016, the percentage of Americans who said they believed "Jews have too much power in the U.S." dropped from 31% to 16%. Likewise, the belief that Jews have "irritating faults" and employ "shady practices to get what they want" has declined from approximately 40% in 1964 to 14% and 17%, respectively, in 2016. The findings suggest that perceptions have been changing for the better — but there's certainly room for improvement. As of 2016, 25% of Americans believe that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust, and 30% believe that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than the U.S. 

And, actual rates of antisemitism may be higher. The Robinson and Rohde study showed that when taking surveys, a person's responses may depend on how they perceive the interviewer. It's possible — and please note I'm speculating here — that antisemitic individuals conceal their opinions from not only Jews, but other groups who are less likely to share the same opinions. Antisemites probably express their opinions most often around other antisemites, while hiding their controversial beliefs from those who might disapprove.

In the past two years, the U.S. has seen a spike in crimes against Jews, including desecration of Jewish cemeteries, swastika graffiti, and shootings at synagoguesHave people suddenly gotten more antisemitic? Probably not. It's more likely that those who were already anti-semitic (and had been for years) now sense greater public acceptance of their views, perhaps given the xenophobic rhetoric of the present administration. As a result, antisemites feel more comfortable expressing their opinions — often in destructive and violent ways.

You can find the original study by Robinson and Rohde here.

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