Polls are a snapshot of what people are thinking at any given time. We’ve drifted toward seeing polls as somehow predictive of how people will act, one reason polling in general has taken a hit since Brexit and Trump’s election.
But polling has been around a long time as a way to get inside the minds of groups of people. That info can be used to form policy or see the effects of policy. That’s why the US military government did a range of polling in the US zone after World War II. Batteries of questions asked Germans about their daily lives, family, work, their opinions about the allies and Germany’s occupation, and particular policies such as the dismantlement of German factories as war reparations.
If you want to read a full report of the polling, check out Public Opinion in Occupied Germany, The OMGUS Surveys from the University of Illinois Press, 1970.
One issue the Americans looked at was antisemitism.
In December 1946, the military government polled 3006 Germans in the US Zone of Germany and the US sector of Berlin. The questions floated around one main issue – What did the years of antisemitic Nazi propaganda leave in the minds of the Germans?
In general, the poll found that people with stronger antisemitic opinions tended to be less educated, from a lower socioeconomic class and less informed. They also tended to be more critical of the Allies, and thought National Socialism was basically a good idea.
The results were broken down into people with few prejudices (20%), Nationalists (19%), Racists (22%), Antisemites (21%), and strong antisemites (18%).
In other words, the numbers looked pretty awful.
To break it down, western Berlin had the lowest percentage of people classified as racists and antisemites – at 45%. Bavaria was the state with the lowest percentage – at 59%!
Women expressed stronger antisemitic opinions than men – 67% of the women versus 50% of the men.
An interesting question measured whether a person recognized that the Germans had tortured and murdered millions of innocent Europeans. 72% of people with few prejudices agreed with this, while only 41% of the racist/antisemitic people did.
Which goes to show you that there has always been a significant percentage of people who choose to believe what they want, against all evidence.
Tilman Paul Piedmont said:
Growing up in the 1970’s as the son of educated Germans who had immigrated to the US a decade earlier, I remember that my mother (born 1933) would often point out if she thought a person was a “Jew”. While she was definitely not an anti-Semite, I remember thinking that it was strange that she didn’t indicate “Methodists”, “Lutherans”, or even fellow Catholics. I also don’t remember her ever making note of a person’s ethnicity or skin-tone. In fact, she condemned racism.
Both my parents and I had Jewish friends, which was not a problem. But, in her mind, the “Jewish” part was definitely a clear identifier. Latent guilt? Conditioning from her childhood? Masked prejudice? I wish I knew…
Very interesting. Maybe she was overcompensating?