Shining a light on survey practices

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Antisemitism was the focus of two national surveys released last week. The first was by the American Jewish Committee and the second by Hillel International and the Anti-Defamation League. Both surveys made clear that antisemitism is very much on the minds of American Jews, who consider it more and more of a problem.

But a question has been raised about alleged sleight of hand and related legitimacy of some of the more explosive conclusions in the AJC survey. In an eye-opening column in the Forward, Laura E. Adkins took issue with, among other things, AJC’s assertion that 3% of American Jewish adults reported they were “victims of antisemitic physical attacks” in the last year. As pointed out by Adkins, 3% of 5.8 million American Jewish adults means that roughly 174,000 Jewish adults reported being victims of physical antisemitic attacks. That can’t be right. If it were, we would have heard about it.


The problem is that the margin of error in the AJC survey is 3%. That means it is just as likely that there were no physical antisemitic attacks in the United States last year as it is that there were 174,000 of them.

We have no doubt that the AJC survey was conducted properly. But we question the wisdom of promoting a headline-grabbing conclusion based solely on margin of error analysis. That said, there are important takeaways from the survey. Eighty percent of American Jews believe that antisemitism has increased over the past five years and almost a quarter have some fear of being identified as Jewish. Nonetheless, more than half of respondents said they still feel secure in the United States.


The Hillel/ADL survey released at roughly the same time covers college students and campuses. That survey’s results are easier to digest and its takeaways more concrete. According to that survey, a majority of Jewish students feel secure on campus, even though there are still too many who feel threatened. Thus, while 80% of Jewish students take pride in their Judaism, only 62% feel free to share that feeling publicly.

We didn’t need either of the surveys to convince us that antisemitism is a serious problem in the U.S. and on college campuses. And nothing in either of the surveys will likely impact what each of our communities must do to make us all feel more secure. There are, however, upgrades to how college campuses should deal with the issue, many of which are outlined in the Hillel/ADL summary and conclusions section of their report, including affording Jewish students the same protections as every other minority on campus.

We encourage more comprehensive studies of antisemitism in America and on college campuses. But in reporting results, care must be taken to avoid sensationalism and naked grabs for headlines and attention. We benefit more from hard facts and verifiable findings, as our community needs that information to guide efforts to upgrade protections and programs to help enhance Jewish life.

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