To assess more deeply whether the tendency among a subset of Americans to blame the Jews is meaningful, we conducted a controlled experiment. The question of interest is whether anti-Semitic sentiments affect people’s thinking about the preferred response to the economic crisis. For example if people associate corruption on Wall Street with Jewish financiers such as Madoff, what is the impact on their views about bailing out big business?
To address this question, we carried out a simple but powerful experiment. Participants in a national survey were randomly assigned to one of three groups. All three groups were prompted with a one-paragraph news report that briefly described the Madoff scandal. The text was the same for all three groups, except for two small differences: the first group was told that Bernard Madoff is an “American investor” who contributed to “educational charities,” the second group was told that Madoff is a “Jewish-American investor” who contributed to “educational charities,” and the third group was told that Madoff is an “American investor” who contributed to “Jewish educational charities.” In other words, group one did not receive any information about Madoff’s Jewish ties; group two was told explicitly that Madoff is Jewish; and group three received implicit information about Madoff’s religious affiliation. In a follow-up question, participants were asked for their views about providing government tax breaks to big business in order to spur job creation.
The responses of the members of the three groups are revealing and disturbing: individuals explicitly told that Madoff is a Jewish-American were almost twice as likely to oppose the tax cuts to big business. Opposition to tax cuts for big business jumped from 10 percent among members of group one to over 17 percent among the members of group two, who were explicitly told about Madoff’s Jewish background. This difference is highly significant in statistical terms. The implicit information contained in Madoff’s charitable history also produced an aversion to big business, but to a lesser degree, with opposition to corporate tax breaks in this case increasing to 14 percent.