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Survey Misread How Many Americans Say Holocaust Never Happened

May 18, 1994 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A leading pollster has repudiated a widely publicized survey that seemed to show that a third of Americans were open to the possibility that the Holocaust never happened.

″The so-called Holocaust denial question was flawed,″ said Burns W. Roper, who is retiring as chairman of the polling company that conducted the survey for the American Jewish Committee.

The AJC said Wednesday it was evaluating a revised and updated survey commissioned from Roper Starch Worldwide, formerly known as the Roper Organization. That survey was taken in March, and the AJC received the full data May 9, said David Singer, director of research.


At a conference of pollsters Friday, Roper said the new survey was ready to be released if only his company and the AJC could agree on an accompanying statement. Singer denied that.

Noting that the AJC office was closed Monday and Tuesday for a Jewish holiday, he said, ″We need an opportunity to look at it and evaluate it and then we will be coming forward with results.″

Efforts to keep alive memories of the Nazis’ attempt to exterminate Jews during World War II have gotten recent boosts from the opening of a museum in Washington, D.C., and the movie ″Schindler’s List.″

At the polling conference, Roper expressed regrets at ending his career by admitting an error. He personally took responsibility for misinforming the public, scaring the Jewish community needlessly and giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis.

Colleagues applauded Roper’s remarks and lavished praise on him for keeping the profession honest at the risk of irritating the research sponsor, which he said had asked him not to appear. Singer would not comment on that.

Frank Newport, editor of the Gallup Poll, agreed with Roper that question wording skewed results of the November 1992 poll, which was given prominent news coverage when it was released in April 1993.

The question, which followed 15 others that made clear what the Holocaust was: ″Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened?″ More than one in five, 22 percent, said it was possible the Holocaust never happened and an additional 12 percent said they didn’t know.

To affirm belief in the Holocaust, the respondent had to agree with a double negative: that it was impossible it never happened. Pollsters know that forcing people to decipher such tortured language does not work in telephone surveys, but Newport and his colleagues set out to test Roper’s results.

A January Gallup Poll included a brief explanation of the Holocaust. Then half the respondents were asked Roper’s question, which again got high Holocaust denial. The other half were asked, ″Do you doubt that the Holocaust actually happened, or not?″ This time, only 9 percent expressed doubt, and 4 percent were unsure.

Gallup went further: ″Just to clarify, in your opinion, did the Holocaust definitely happen, probably happen, probably not happen, or definitely not happen?″ Seventeen percent said probably not, and 2 percent said definitely not.

Unless respondents said the Holocaust definitely happened, they were asked to explain their views in their own words. This revealed that only about 4 percent have real doubts about the Holocaust; the others are just insecure about their historical knowledge or won’t believe anything they have not experienced themselves, Newport said.

Both Singer and Roper said the fact that the original survey showed a lot of ignorance about the Holocaust, particularly among the young and less educated, lulled analysts into thinking a third could be open to believing it never happened.