Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Method and Meaning in Surveys on Attitudes to Jews in Poland

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Method and Meaning in Surveys on Attitudes to Jews in Poland

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article is a methodological commentary regarding surveys on attitudes in Poland to Jews and publications on that research. It is intended to help in interpreting survey results and to prevent conclusions being drawn on insufficient grounds. The article shows some of the problems with interpreting and determining the meaning of survey results. It analyses, in this light, the survey meaning of the word "Jew;" numerical questions and answers; questions about attitudes-like and dislike, closeness and distance; answers expressing belief in Jewish power; and questions and answers in international comparative studies.

Keywords: survey research, meaning, attitudes toward Jews, anti-Semitism, Poland.

The basic issue addressed in this work is the meaning of answers received during surveys of Poles' attitudes toward Jews. The first such surveys were conducted in 1976 and they have been done regularly since 1989 (Sulek 2013). There have been both public opinion polls, in which only a few questions were devoted to Poles' attitudes toward Jews, and thorough academic surveys. Some surveys have been part of multinational surveys conducted by organizations monitoring anti-Semitism around the world or by other institutions. Thus a serious body of data has emerged, which is available not only in survey reports and sociological works published in Poland, but also in synthesizing works published in other countries (for instance, Hirszowicz 1993; Cala 2003; Sulek 2012a). This article is a broad methodological commentary on the data and publications. It is intended to help in interpreting the results and to prevent the drawing of insufficiently grounded conclusions.

This article has another aim. Jewish groups, attitudes toward Jews, and research into attitudes toward Jews are respectively complex collectives, constructions, and social enterprises; thus many questions on the methodology of social research can be weighed using these surveys as an example. To use the words of Robert Merton, this research is in itself a strategic research material.

Social researchers know how to put together questions, pose them to representative samples of respondents, and count and analyze the answers. Each of these abilities and phases of survey research has had many books, including textbooks, devoted to it. These abilities have acquired the status of methods, and methods can easily be learned. The difficulty lies with the last and perhaps most important phase of research: interpreting the answers, defining the meaning of the answers received, and relating them to the ideas that organize experience. Here there are no textbooks and learning to interpret depends to a large degree on analyzing cases, instances, and examples. An excellent learning tool as well as an inspiration for reflection and for doing experimental research into the meaning of survey answers has been provided by Howard Schuman (2008) in his book Method and Meaning in Polls and Surveys. The title of the present article has been taken from this work.

Using the example of research into attitudes in Poland toward Jews, this article will analyze the problems of defining the meaning of survey results. In this light, it will analyze the numerical questions and answers; the questions on attitude-like and dislike, closeness and distance; the answers expressing belief in Jewish power; and questions and answers in international comparative research. First, however, the survey meaning of the word "Jew" will be considered. In the present analysis there will be both methodological and substantive content; recommendations will also be formulated for researchers and their audiences.

Who in Poland are the "Jews"?

In surveys conducted in Poland, Jews are described variously: most often "Jews" are those "who are Jews," but they may also be "Jews who live in Poland," "persons of Jewish descent," "Polish citizens of Jewish descent," or other descriptions. It can happen that the research subjects do not know whether the question is about Jews in general, about Jews as citizens of Israel, or about Jews in Poland; thus the researchers as well do not always know about whom the respondents are speaking. …

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