April 2015
Dear Friends,


On March 17, near the end of our workday, polling stations in Israel closed and several of us followed Israeli websites' reporting on the election outcome. We, like many, were surprised to see the discrepancies between the survey predictions, the exit polls, and the actual results reported the next day.This discrepancy is of particular interest to those of us who use surveys and polls to understand social and political attitudes.


One reflection of our thinking regarding why the final poll results were so out of sync with the actual political behavior is an op-ed we shared last week about the polls. Analysis of the Israeli election polls can, we believe, teach us both how polls should be used and how we should conduct and use surveys of American Jews.


Also related to our work on Israel and the attitudes of American Jewry, the paperback edition of The New American Zionism, by CMJS senior research scientist Ted Sasson, will be published next month. In an updated preface to the new edition, he examines how some of his predictions have borne out since the first edition was published in 2014. As partisan divisions accelerate and central communal bodies struggle to advocate for Israel while addressing concerns about peace, democracy, and religious pluralism, we see how prescient his analysis was. 


Finally, we are about to launch data collection for two new Jewish community studies---in Boston and Nashville. Below, Matthew Boxer, a principal investigator of our community studies, discusses what CMJS/SSRI bring to this research and what he has learned through his work with communities thus far. 


Best wishes for a joyous Passover.

Chag same'ach,

Len signature      

Leonard Saxe, PhD

Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Social Policy
Director, Steinhardt Social Reseach Institute and Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

Now in Paperback:

"Theodore Sasson's book, The New American Zionism, offers an important challenge to the widely accepted belief that the relationship between American Jews and Israel has entered a time of crisis. Indeed, Sasson makes precisely the opposite claim. American Jews remain passionately connected to Israel. However, the modes of engaging with Israel have changed dramatically over the past two decades."


Noam Pianko (University of Washington)

"How disconnected are American Jews from the State of Israel? Many have engaged with alarm the claims by commentators like Peter Beinart, who point to a waning enthusiasm young American Jews feel toward Israel. But is this an accurate picture? In his groundbreaking study The New American Zionism, Theodore Sasson analyzes several key but neglected indicators of American Jewish attitudes to add greater nuance to this question. Not only does he examine the fundamental problem raised by Beinart and others, he challenges the framework by which much scholarship has engaged with this loaded topic. And his well-documented study offers a surprising revision."

- Jess Olson (Yeshiva University)
American Jewish History
Volume 99, Number 1, January 2015
The CMJS/SSRI Approach to Community Studies


Matthew Boxer

Matthew Boxer, PhD, is a research scientist at CMJS and SSRI and a principal investigator for our community studies. Below he discusses our unique approach to this research and the potential such studies represent.


CMJS/SSRI has become increasingly involved in Jewish community studies in recent years. Can you tell us a little about why these studies are important?


Community studies have been one of the most important ways that the American Jewish community understands itself. CMJS/SSRI has long been involved in these studies and our new emphasis on this work is a way to bring modern methods to the study of Jewish life. Our goal is to understand the growth of communities and, most importantly, the needs, interests, and Jewish engagement of community members. We learn where the Jewish community is successfully providing services that meet members' needs and where there are still gaps. Ultimately, our goal for these studies is to help the community strengthen itself where it is already strong and improve itself where there are challenges. Having high-quality data is essential to this effort.

Your reference to data leads me to my next question. Are there unique aspects to the CMJS/SSRI approach to community studies?


Yes! We have developed a set of new methods to estimate the size of Jewish communities more accurately than can be done using traditional approaches. We turn to our Steinhardt Institute meta-analysis research program, which synthesizes data from nationally representative surveys of the US population, to produce estimates of the local Jewish population. In addition we use data from our JData project, which provides census-like figures about participation in Jewish educational programs, to calibrate survey results and ensure that we don't overestimate the most engaged members of the community or underestimate the unaffiliated. Alongside the survey synthesis for population numbers, we field a comprehensive survey to everyone with a name on any of the community's membership lists. The result is a study with extremely accurate population estimates without the fallout from excessive costs and/or methodologically problematic techniques. By not having to do a screener, we are able to focus our resources to better understand the characteristics of community members. We also spend a lot of time talking to people in the community finding out what they want to know. Rather than reuse surveys for multiple communities, we customize each community's survey based on the information we gained during our investigation and meeting process.


Continue reading

"I Thought I was Dead": Polls as a Casualty of the Israeli Elections

March 23, 2015

A bold headline in Ha'aretz on the day after the Israeli election read, "When I was told about the results, I thought I was dead." The quote was not by the leader of the defeated Zionist Union party, but by Professor Camil Fuchs, a distinguished survey statistician and lead consultant for several pre- and post-election polls. His polls, along with others reported by the Israeli press, were "dead wrong," underestimating Netanyahu's support by 50% in pre-election polls and post-election exit polls, and overstating Herzog's vote by more than 10%.

The polling expert was not the only one initially misled. Relying, in part, on these polls, the Israel media predicted a Netanyahu debacle. Some of the press acknowledged that they were biased by wishful thinking, but they also failed to grasp the deep Israeli need for reassurances of security - the centerpiece of Netanyahu's campaign.

There are a number of technical reasons for the failures of both pre- and post-election estimates.

Continue reading in ejewishphilanthropy
Volume 8, Issue 2
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Constructs is the e-newsletter of Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies