Press reporting of surveys

Whenever my club (I am talking football) win I seek out as many reports of the match from online media as I can; blogs give personal reactions but I like to look at the online newspapers too. I particular want to know what a professional journalist made of the match and, if I was not at the match itself, I want to imagine the game from as many perspectives as possible. In the event press reporting of my team is nearly always a disappointment. My team is not in the ‘top tier’ it is rare that any national newspaper will send their own journalists to see them play, so what you get is recycling of the same Press Association report, either ‘as is’ or with a few words changed here and there, and if you are lucky, you will find a picture or two thrown in. This very limited reporting is of course quite understandable given the resources the press has (I am well aware that I am expecting to access good independent reporting without paying for it) and the lack of national interest in my team. However I cannot help but feel let down – though I can at least console myself that that the Press Association report is trying to describe what happened from an independent point of view. I was thinking about recycling reports the other day in relation to a much weightier topic – a survey or actually two surveys carried out by a pressure group, the Campaign Against Antisemitism or CAS) – go to http://antisemitism.uk. The group found widespread anti-semitic attitudes with the UK population, for example:

Shockingly almost half (45%) of British adults believe at least one of the anti-semitic statements shown to them to be true, 1 in 4 people (26%) believe at least two statements to be true and 17% believe at least three statements.
In a second survey of Jewish people themselves it was found that ‘well over half of British Jews (58%) believe Jews may have no long-term future in Europe’ and ‘1 in 4 British Jews has considered leaving the country in the past two years because of rising antisemitism.’

The story got taken up by the national newspapers. Here is the Guardian:

Nearly half of the British population agreed with one of four [sic] anti-semitic statements presented to them according to a new poll, which found that one in eight of those surveyed believe that Jewish people use the Holocaust as a means of gaining sympathy. It also found that one in four (25%) Britons believed that Jews chase money more than other British people, a figure which rose to 39% of those participants who identified themselves as Ukip voters. [  ]  The group also carried out its own separate survey of British Jews, which found that 54% feared they had no future in the UK and that a quarter had considered leaving the country in the last two years.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/uk-jewish-antisemitism-rise-yougov-poll Here is the Daily Mail a paper often thought as having a wildly different perspective on politics and the conduct of journalism:

Nearly half of the British population agreed with one of four antisemitic statements presented to them according to a new poll, which found that one in eight of those surveyed believe that Jewish people use the Holocaust as a means of gaining sympathy. It also found that one in four (25%) Britons believed that Jews chase money more than other British people, a figure which rose to 39% of those participants who identified themselves as Ukip voters. [  ] In a separate survey carried out by the CAA, 54% of British Jews feared they had no future in the UK and a quarter (25%) said they have considered leaving the country in the last two years.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-2909090/Many-hold-anti-Semitic-views.html#ixzz3P1jYqQZo

You can find similar reporting, often with more or less identical text, in a host of other media both in UK as well as internationally. Overall as a reader you are left with the impression that many Jewish people are experiencing high levels of active prejudice, and worse, and as a consequence a staggeringly high number are thinking of emigrating. But this to me, and to many people I have spoken to, does not ring true: so have things changed that much or are there problems with the surveys on which the reporting is based? In the first survey, respondents were asked the following questions (to which I have added the levels of  agreement in brackets):

“Jews think they are better than other people” (17 per cent)
“In business, Jews are not as honest as most people” (11 per cent)
“I would be unhappy if a family member married a Jew” (10 per cent)
“Jews have too much power in the media” (17 per cent)
“Jews chase money more than other British people” (25 per cent)
“Jews’ loyalty to Israel makes them less loyal to Britain than other British people” (20 per cent)
“Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to get sympathy” (13 per cent)

What strikes me here is that the questions are designed to pick up prejudice, stereotyping and lazy thinking but they are, on the whole, not covering the kind of direct anti semitic behaviour which would lead you to think about leaving a country. Second, the findings show that the clear majority of respondents do not express consistently anti-semitic views, though obviously some, I would guess around 5 – 10 percent, do. Third, I wonder if you changed the wording to reflect relevant stereotyping, if would you expect similar levels of prejudice in respect to other minority groups?

The 45 percent figure being reported so widely is particularly odd as no single statement elicited more than a 25 per cent level of agreement. In fact many people within this 45 per cent must have been inconsistent in their attitudes and may well have disagreed with (or had no opinion on) on more of the statements put to them than they agreed with.

We can also see in the reporting that a ‘proper’ survey from YouGov is being mixed with an open online survey of self selected people carried out by CAS itself and it was in this second survey that it was found that 25 per cent of Jews are thinking of emigrating because of anti semitism. This of course is a staggeringly large number but the survey is clearly not representative, or rather we cannot tell if it is representative. We do, however, know that if this 25 percent figure is true then it would lead to a completely different pattern from anything experienced in recent years – something picked up in some international reporting but not by our national press.

This blog is not about anti Semitism*,  a real phenomenon with dreadful consequences, and it is not about the CAS as a pressure group – they have drawn attention to something important and have done this very effectively (though I am doubtful how effective this kind of approach will be in the long term). I am realistic about what we can expect of the press but my point is that it is one thing to recycle Press Association reports about football matches and another to recycle pressure group reporting of social issues.

* For a scholarly view of anti semitism try the Institute for Jewish Policy Research http://www.jpr.org.uk in which there is also a more detailed and stronger criticism of the CAS research. You will also find interesting discussion about young people’s attitudes to religion at a project conducted by university colleagues, follow the links at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/ces/research/wreru/research/current/ahrc/

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