Study finds tension on Jewish leaders

Published: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 11:19 p.m.
Some Floridians may not be ready for a Jewish president, a new University of Florida study shows.
More than one in 10 Florida voters feel "angry" at the idea of a Jewish presidential candidate, and this hostility could be repeated nationally with Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman running for the nation's top position, according to the study.
"There is still a reservoir of hostility out there," said Kenneth Wald, a UF political scientist and one of the study's authors.
"No one should assume that because Joe Lieberman did not encounter a lot of problems when he ran for vice president in 2000 that this would be the case if he ran a second time at the top of the ticket," Wald said.
Just 3 percent of 606 registered Florida voters said in October 2000 they were "angered" by a Jewish vice-presidential candidate.
But 11 percent of 601 Florida voters said in a May and June 2002 survey they would be angered by a Jewish candidate running for president.
"Because the presidency is a core symbol of American government, citizens' anxieties are more likely to be evident at that level than in their attitudes toward the vice presidency," said Stephen Craig, a UF political scientist who led the study, which has been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal, Social Science Quarterly.
Relative indifference about a vice presidential candidate, however, may mask anti-Semitic feelings that may surface with Lieberman running at the top the ticket, Craig said.
Surprising to the researchers and counter to other studies, both surveys found self-described liberals and people under age 60 were more likely than conservatives and elderly residents to react negatively to the idea of a Jewish candidate, Craig said.
"It raises questions about whether anti-Jewish sentiments are actually stronger among segments of the population that are considered to be
more tolerant," he said. "It does not appear that Al Gore's selection of a Jewish (vice-presidential) candidate cost him much, if any, popular support in this critical battleground state," Craig said.
"But it looks like there is still some anti-Jewish sentiment out there - we don't know how much - that might present a problem for Jewish candidates running for national office, perhaps enough to tip a very close election," he said.
Because people don't always reveal their true opinions on sensitive topics for fear of giving socially unacceptable answers, researchers used a measuring tool called the List Experiment, which has been applied successfully to confirm hidden racism, Wald said.
Although the survey measured anger-generating statements, it did not provide a way for respondents to explain why a Jewish presidential candidate would make them angry.

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