The shocking statistic that one in five Americans believes the Holocaust may not have occurred has been retested, and officially refuted in a new poll.
A new survey commissioned by the American Jewish Committee and conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide Inc. found that just over 1 percent of respondents deny that the Holocaust occurred, contradicting the group’s disputed 1992 poll which had put denial at more than 20 percent.
The new survey, released July 6, also found a strong correlation between denial of the Holocaust and knowledge of basic facts about it. Many of those who questioned or denied that the Holocaust occurred cited lack of information as the reason for their uncertainty, or displayed ignorance of basic facts about the Holocaust.
“Not only are the levels of denial low, but few are dedicated, committed deniers. Most of the questioning of the Holocaust reflects ignorance rather than anti-Semitic commitment,” said Tom Smith of the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, who analyzed the Roper poll and other data for AJCommittee.
In the new Roper poll, which was conducted in March, 1.1 percent of respondents said it was possible that the Holocaust did not occur, compared with 22 percent in the original survey.
Eight percent of respondents in the new poll said they were not sure whether the Holocaust happened, compared with 12 percent in 1992.
FIRST SURVEY QUESTIONED SINCE RELEASE
The drop is attributed to a change in the question meant to gauge denial, which analysts said contained a confusing double negative that led some respondents to answer the opposite of what they intended or to answer “not sure” because they did not understand the question.
The original question was, “Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened?”
Burns Roper, the now-retired chairman of the Roper group, explained that questioners were attempting to avoid phrasing that would encourage a positive response.
The new question asked, “Does it seem possible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened, or do you feel certain that it happened?”
In the new poll, 91 percent of those questioned said they were certain the Holocaust happened, compared with 65 percent in the original survey.
The results of the original survey had been questioned since they were released in April 1993 and were officially disavowed by Roper himself in May 1994.
“We should never have approved the question, and we certainly never should have written it,” he told a conference of professional pollsters.
The results of the original survey had been viewed by some as shocking evidence that neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers had had a significant impact on American beliefs. There were reports that neo-Nazi groups even cited the AJCommittee poll to encourage their supporters.
But the new poll found that only about half of deniers surveyed and 4 percent of those unsure had ever heard denial claims.
“Without exposure to these claims,” said Smith, “these people cannot be adopting and following their denials,”
The AJCommittee has been criticized within the American Jewish community for failing to repudiate the statistics publicly once questions were raised.
“The fact that the AJCommittee knew fairly early on and did nothing about it for 14 months, that’s really the scandal and that’s what has angered a lot of people” said the leader of a U.S. Jewish organization who requested anonymity.
The AJCommittee had attempted to dissuade Roper from publicly disavowing the question’s results at the conference last spring.
AJCommittee Executive Director David Harris said the group had wanted to wait until results of the new poll had been analyzed before making a public statement.
“This was not something that happened the day after the survey was released,” said Harris, who said the serious conflicts over the question became clear in December 1993, and were referred to in an AJCommittee publication last January.
“When we were convinced of it, I think we acted entirely appropriately,” Harris said.
The denial question was written by the Roper group.
The recent Roper poll was the result of inperson interviews with 991 adults across the country. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The poll also found a 7 percent increase from the 1992 survey in general knowledge about the Holocaust.
Smith attributed the increase to publicity surrounding the opening of Holocaust memorial museums in Washington and Los Angeles, as well as the popularity of the movie “Schindler’s List.”
Harris said that, ironically, publicity surrounding the first Roper poll may also have contributed to the increase in knowledge about the Holocaust itself.
“Maybe it had a sort of unintended, salutary effect,” he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.