By MENACHEM WECKER
A new survey that Pew Research Center released on Wednesday, March 15 contains positive news for American Jews and certain, but not all, other faith groups stateside.
Among the 42% of non-Jewish Americans who expressed favorable-unfavorable opinions about Jews, 34% were very or somewhat favorable, while 7% were unfavorable. That positive differential—27 points—was the largest of any faith group.
Among non-Catholics, 26% were very or somewhat favorable and 21% were unfavorable towards Catholics (5 points), while more Americans who aren’t Muslim, atheist or Mormon saw those groups as more unfavorable than favorable.
A total of 17% of non-Muslims saw Muslims favorably, compared to 22% unfavorably (a -5 differential), 17% of non-atheists saw atheism at least somewhat favorably compared to 25 unfavorably (-9 differential) and just 14% of non-Mormons had favorable views of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, compared to 26% unfavorable (-12% differential).
“This survey confirms what we have found repeatedly over the past decade, which is that on the whole, Jews are among the most positively regarded religious groups in America,” Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew Research Center, told JNS. “Overwhelmingly, Americans express either favorable or neutral feelings toward Jews, and relatively few—about 6% in the latest survey—say they view Jews unfavorably.”
No matter how Pew has posed the question about attitudes towards U.S. religious groups over the years, “Jews have topped the list or been tied at the top of the list with a few other groups,” such as Catholics and mainline Protestants, “as the most positively viewed overall,” he said.
The data does not mean that the United States is nearly free of anti-Semitism today. Other sorts of studies show increasing numbers of anti-Semitic incidents, as well as hate crimes broadly, in the United States in recent years, according to Cooperman.
“In our 2020 survey of U.S. Jews, which came in the wake of violent attacks on Jews at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif, we found that 75% of Jewish Americans thought there was more anti-Semitism in America than there had been five years earlier, and a slight majority (53%) of Jewish Americans said in the 2020 survey that they, personally, felt less safe as a Jewish person in America than they had five years earlier,” he told JNS.
The data does not mean that the United States is nearly free of anti-Semitism. Other sorts of studies show increasing numbers of anti-Semitic incidents, as well as hate crimes broadly, in the United States in recent years, according to Cooperman.
“In our 2020 survey of U.S. Jews, which came in the wake of violent attacks on Jews at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif., we found that 75% of Jewish Americans thought there was more anti-Semitism in America than there had been five years earlier, and a slight majority (53%) of Jewish Americans said in the 2020 survey that they, personally, felt less safe as a Jewish person in America than they had five years earlier,” he told JNS.
The two findings do not contradict one another, according to Cooperman.
““Both things can be true at the same time-that, on the whole, Jews are well regarded by their fellow citizens in the United States, and that anti-Semitic incidents are rising. In fact, when we asked Jewish Americans in 2020 for their thoughts on why anti-Semitism was rising, relatively few said they thought it was solely because the number of anti-Semites in the U.S. public had risen. Many more cited a changed atmosphere,” he said.
The new Pew analysis is based on a survey of 10,588 U.S. adults, which was conducted between Sept. 13-18, 2022. (The margin of error is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points, according to Pew.)
“Some survey respondents may find it strange or difficult to be asked to rate an entire group of people,” noted Pew, which is why many respondents gave neutral answers.
“The patterns are affected in part by the size of the groups asked about since people tend to rate their own religious group positively,” according to the report.
More Jews than others rated their own group positively. Some 81% of Jews were at least somewhat favorable to Jews (a 79-point increase over the 2% who were unfavorable). The differential was 78 points for Mormons (80% positive, 3% negative; some numbers are rounded), 70 for atheists (72% favorable, 2% unfavorable) and 62 for Catholics (66% positive, 4% negative).
“Jews make up such a small portion of the U.S. population—about 2%—that excluding their own views makes little difference in overall public opinion toward Jews,” reported Pew. Indeed, the overall U.S. numbers were 35% favorable and 6% unfavorable about Jews.
Cooperman told JNS that the breakdown of the overall numbers was 14% very favorable, 21% somewhat favorable, 43% neutral (“neither favorable nor unfavorable”), 4% somewhat unfavorable and 2% very unfavorable with respect to Jews.
“This is the first time we have asked the question this way, so the figures are not directly comparable to the ‘feeling thermometer’ ratings we have collected in the past, and it’s not possible to say whether the latest numbers are higher, lower or about the same as in the past,” he said. “However, the overall pattern is similar to what we found with the ‘feeling thermometer’ question, which we asked three times over the past decade.”
Those who know a Jewish person were twice as likely as those who did not to report positive views of Jews: 42% compared to 21%. Among non-Jews who view Jews negatively, about the same percentage know (6%) and don’t know (7%) a Jew.
The Pew data also showed that Jews were the only group in the study to “universally receive net positive ratings from all other groups.” Some 45% of born-again or evangelical Protestants have positive views of Jews (6% are unfavorable). And Jews were the only religious group to get a net positive rating from atheists (+13 percentage points).
“The survey did not include enough interviews with Muslim Americans to accurately measure their views toward Jews or any other group,” stated Pew.
Americans with unfavorable views of Jews tend to have the same about Muslims, but those with unfavorable views of Muslims do not necessarily have the same about Jews, according to Pew. Just 4% of U.S. adults have unfavorable views of both Jews and Muslims. A minuscule 2% had unfavorable views of Jews but not Muslims, while 18% had unfavorable views of Muslims, but not Jews.
Pew added: “Both Republicans and Democrats tend to view Jews favorably. About four-in-10 Republicans say they see Jews positively (38%), as do one-third of Democrats (33%). Identical shares view them negatively (6% each).”