Results Find Generational Divide on Severity of Anti-Semitism as a Problem
LEWISBURG, Pa. — A recent nationally representative survey from the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) suggests that while Americans generally agree that anti-Semitism is a significant problem in the United States, they remain divided on what constitutes “anti-Semitic” speech and behavior.
According to the survey results, generational divides in views of acceptable behavior exist, with Americans under 35 less likely to view anti-Semitism as a major problem, and less likely to label certain kinds of behaviors unacceptable than older respondents.
“Though most Americans care that anti-Semitism exists and consider it to be a problem, younger respondents are significantly less likely to see it as a significant threat in American politics, and more likely than older Americans to perceive as acceptable a wider range of criticism about Israel and the allegedly disproportionate influence of pro-Israel advocacy in American politics,” said Christopher Ellis, political science professor and director of the Bucknell Survey Research Laboratory.
Interviews for this survey, administered by YouGov for BIPP, were conducted from April 24 through 28. A small number of interviews were thus conducted after the Poway Synagogue shooting on April 27. There are no statistically meaningful differences between data collected before and after the shooting.
Americans see anti-Semitism as a problem but divided on whom to blame
Roughly one-third (35%) of respondents said that they thought anti-Semitism — or hostility or prejudice toward Jewish people — is a “major” problem in the United States today. Another 52% said that it was a “minor” problem, and 13% responded that anti-Semitism was “not a problem at all.” There were few differences across political lines in how serious respondents viewed anti-Semitism to be, though Republicans (16%) were more likely than Democrats (6%) to say that anti-Semitism was not a problem.
Younger respondents were significantly less concerned with anti-Semitism than older ones, with 25% of those under 35 responding that anti-Semitism was a major problem, compared to 47% of those over 65. Respondents under 35 were also the age group most likely (18%) to say that anti-Semitism was not a problem at all.
Americans were divided in predictable ways in how they assessed the blame for anti-Semitism. More than a quarter (26%) of all respondents said that anti-Jewish sentiment in the United States was most likely to be expressed by those on the political left, while 33% said it was most likely to be expressed by those on the political right. A plurality (42%) of respondents said that both sides were about equally to blame for anti-Jewish sentiment.
A majority (54%) of Democrats said that anti-Semitism is most likely to be expressed by those on the political right, while a majority of Republicans (51%) said that it was most likely to be expressed by the political left. Those not affiliated with either political party attributed blame for anti-Jewish sentiment roughly equally to both sides of the political aisle.
Differing views on what “unacceptable” anti-Jewish behavior is in American politics
There were significant differences in what Americans thought constituted unacceptable behavior in American politics, particularly when it came to understanding whether criticism of Israel or perceived Israeli influence over U.S. politics is unacceptable.
The vast majority of Americans of all political stripes were in agreement that arguing against the existence of the Holocaust, saying that Israel has no right to exist, and suggesting that Jews are conspiring to control American politics were all examples of unacceptable behavior: only 9%, 15%, and 16%, respectively saw these statements as acceptable.
There was more disagreement when it came to other factors regarding the supposed influence of pro-Israel interests in American politics. Roughly one-quarter (26%) of Americans thought it was acceptable to suggest that Jewish organizations hold too much control over American politics, and roughly one-third (34%) said that it is acceptable to suggest that Jewish-American politicians have dual loyalties to Israel and the United States.
The public was more divided when it came to criticism of Israel itself, but the majority of Americans still thought it unacceptable to criticize the Israeli government. About half of Americans (46%) thought it was acceptable to make pointed criticisms of Israeli government policies, while 58% said that it was acceptable to say that the U.S. government should treat Israel and Palestine as equals.
There were modest differences across partisan lines in what should be considered acceptable behavior—53% of Democrats, but only 33% of Republicans, for example, thought it was acceptable to criticize the Israeli government. But the biggest differences in views of what constitutes acceptable behavior came across generational lines.
On every item, Americans under 35 were markedly more likely than older generations to say that various actions were acceptable. For example, 17% of Americans under 35 responded that it was acceptable to deny that the Holocaust existed, compared to 1% of Americans over 50. Ellis emphasized that the survey does not reflect that the respondents were denying the existence of the Holocaust, but rather that the respondents believe individuals have the right to hold their own opinions.
Respondents under 35 were also significantly more likely to be open to the criticism of Israel, and to the U.S. taking a neutral approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict.