Faulty Holocaust Poll Statistics Misleading
Elizabeth Jensen's letter (Perspectives, September 1994) on Holocaust denial referred to a 1993 Roper Organization poll that found that 22 percent of Americans believed it possible the Holocaust never happened. The response to this poll was affected by confusing wording including a double negative: "Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of Jews never happened?" Consequently, in March 1994, Roper administered a poll asking the question again, but with an improved wording eliminating the double negative: "Does it seem possible to you that the Nazi extermination of Jews never happened, or do you feel certain that it happened?" This time, a much smaller proportion—one percent of the sample—responded that it was possible that the Holocaust never happened. (See "Holocaust Poll Analyzer Named," New York Times, May 27, 1994, and "Questioning the Holocaust [Revisited]," Washington Post, July 10, 1994).
The second poll result should put into perspective Jensen's alarm about the susceptibility of the general public to the lures of the Holocaust deniers. Jensen's presumption that "amateurs"—members of the History Book Club—would be "more vulnerable" to the deniers than AHA members may be an unfortunate, elitist outcome of the exaggerated sense of public vulnerability the first poll encouraged.
Many AHA members must feel, as do I, a special responsibility to educate the public and our students about the Holocaust; to understand the historical grounding of anti-Semitism; and to devise strategies, in light of our knowledge of the past, to oppose anti-Semitism today. Our strategies ought to be grounded in a proper understanding of present circumstances, which the first poll may not promote.
College of William and Mary
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