A “chilling” survey of British Jews’ views on Israel has been limited to respondents with the 40 most “distinctive Jewish names” for cost reasons, a major pollster has revealed.
Ipsos MORI, the UK’s second biggest polling agency, said it took this most straightforward approach because it was more “cost effective” to go through the electoral roll and only write to those with names identified as Jewish by a “Jewish expert”.
The company denies stereotyping but has refused to publish the list of 40 typical Jewish names. It also says its client – a “Jewish communal organisation” – was “holding back on identifying themselves,” despite letters having already been sent.
Professor Stephen Miller, a social researcher at City University, said he developed a list of the most “distinctive” Jewish names which was “tried and tested” for such a survey.
Yet despite Jewish News readers’ concern that a polling agency was writing to them having somehow identified them as Jewish, Miller said he saw “no public interest reason” to publish the list at this stage. Others working in the field of Jewish social research implied that the approach was old-fashioned and unreliable.
Keith Kahn-Harris, a sociologist at the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, said: “Using ‘distinctive Jewish names’ carries all sorts of issues. What about Jews with names like Smith? What of the many Jews whose name may not sound Jewish at all? It’s an issue of who you miss out and who you include.”
Ipsos MORI, which said it had been chosen because it was an “independent, authoritative and widely respected organisation,” defended its approach, which it said had been approved by the client.
Communications director Sara Gundry said: “Given the strong correlation between some names and particular cultural and ethnic groups, we have adopted this methodology as the most cost-effective means of reaching a wide cross-section of Jewish people living in the UK.”
However, Kahn-Harris said: “It’s not very sophisticated. They used to do this sort of thing years ago, and even then the letter would come from a Jewish organisation. You have to be aware of the sensitivities. It’s not a smart way of doing things.”
He said there were several other options but “it depends how much money you want to spend,” adding: “One way is to conduct an online survey, weighting it according to demographic data from the census, or piggyback on national omnibus surveys in which respondents’ ethnicity is recorded. You could even form a panel to build up a list of individual British Jews, as others do.”
Concerned Jewish News readers agreed that there were far better methods. One woman contacted by the survey who asked to remain anonymous said she was “alarmed and chilled” to receive one of the unsolicited survey forms based solely on her Jewish-sounding surname. “I am the only one of my friends and acquaintances to have been contacted and suspected that it was because I have a distinctly Jewish name,” she said.
“I’ve had some chilly reactions to my name over years – one very blatant one – so this arriving through the letter box was not welcome.” She added that the letter contained no explanation as to how she had been identified as a Jew and said it evoked painful memories – especially in today’s climate. I feel isolated and identified by my family name. With the rise in anti-Semitism once again, I am opposed to this survey and the way it has been presented.”
Kully Kaur-Ballagan of Ipsos MORI, denied that only sending letters to people with certain names was stereotyping British Jews and said respondents who said they were not Jewish were screened out. “Using distinctive Jewish names is simply a way of identifying people who are probably Jewish and who may wish to give their opinions,” she said. “We do not see this as stereotyping. No offence was intended and if any has been caused we apologise.”
• Editorial comment: What’s in a (Jewish) name? – CLICK HERE