Americans feel more favorably than not about Jews — survey

Most Pew poll respondents hold neutral feelings toward religious groups, but Jews have net positive rating across all surveyed, even as FBI report finds rise in antisemitism

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

A Hasidic Jew walks past a closed synagogue in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City, on October 9, 2020.  (Angela Weiss / AFP)
A Hasidic Jew walks past a closed synagogue in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City, on October 9, 2020. (Angela Weiss / AFP)

Americans hold more favorable than unfavorable opinions on Jews, mainline Protestants and Catholics, according to a new study published this week amid a recent spike in antisemitic incidents in the United States.

The Pew survey said atheists, Muslims, and Mormons were viewed more unfavorably than favorably, but most respondents felt neutral or responded with “don’t know enough to say” when asked about each group.

The poll found 34 percent of non-Jewish US adults held positive opinions about Jews, against 7% who held unfavorable views. Fifty-eight percent of respondents didn’t know or felt neutral about Jewish people.

The study also found that Jews are the only group that received a net positive rating across all groups surveyed. For example, Protestants view Jews more favorably (45%) than unfavorably (6%).

The survey comes after an FBI report on Monday found that antisemitic incidents in the US spiked by nearly 20% in 2021 compared to 2020.

The updated FBI statistics counted 817 anti-Jewish criminal offenses reported by local law enforcement agencies in 2021, up from 683 in 2020 — a year when people largely stayed off the streets for a substantial period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Illustrative: New York police officers stand guard at the door of the Union Temple of Brooklyn after it was vandalized with graffiti, November 2, 2018. (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

The 2021 numbers, however, represent a 15% decline from 2019, when the FBI reported 963 hate crimes, as well as a slight decline from 2018 when FBI statistics show 847 hate crimes.

According to Wednesday’s Pew findings, Americans are more likely to rate a group favorably if they know a person belonging to that religion.

For example, the survey found that 42% of non-Jews who know a Jewish person expressed favorable opinions of the group, compared to 21% of those who don’t personally know a Jew.

The study also found that the share of those who express a negative opinion of Jews is similar regardless if they are acquainted with one (6%) or not (7%).

Along partisan lines, both Republicans (38%) and Democrats (33%) view Jews positively, while identical shares had unfavorable views (6%).

Overall, more respondents held more favorable than unfavorable views about mainline Protestants (30%), Catholics (34%), and Evangelical Christians (28%). Mainline Protestants were viewed negatively by 10% of respondents, Catholics by 18%, and Evangelicals by 27%.

Most respondents felt neutral toward or didn’t know enough about Protestants (59%), Catholics (47%) and Evangelicals (44%). Among those viewed more unfavorably than favorably were atheists (24%), Muslims (22%), and Mormons (25%).

Only 20% of respondents viewed atheists favorably, 17% Muslims and 15% Mormons. More than half said they felt neutral about atheists (55%), Muslims (59%), and Mormons (59%).

Pew polled 10,588 US adults for the survey.

JTA contributed to this report.

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