Washington -- More than one-third of Americans who have seen Mel Gibson's blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ" say Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, according to a new Pew Research Center poll released Friday.
The portion of Americans in general who hold Jews responsible has risen from 19 percent in 1997 to 26 percent today. That figure has doubled among black Americans--42 percent, up from 21 percent--and more than tripled among Americans under the age of 30, from 10 percent to 34 percent.
Pollsters said the rise among blacks and young people was "striking," but said it may be premature to link seeing the movie with placing blame on Jews. "Generally, there is a correlation between seeing the movie, and expressing an intention to see it, with holding the view that Jews were responsible for Christ's death," pollsters said. They noted that 29 percent of people who plan to see the movie already hold Jews responsible, and that "people who are drawn to this movie may be predisposed to this opinion more than others."
The poll reflects concerns voiced by many Jewish groups that Gibson's film could stir up anti-Semitism with its negative portrayal of Jews. A survey released last month by the Anti-Defamation League found a nearly identical figure of 25 percent of people blaming Jews. "We are concerned that Mr. Gibson's film--with its unambiguous blaming of the Jews--will not only reinforce those views, but could exacerbate the problem by convincing even more people that his version of the story of the Crucifixion is Gospel truth," said the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman.
The Pew poll found that 18 percent of whites, 30 percent of blacks and 28 percent of Hispanics have seen Gibson's film. Interest seemed strongest among young Catholics ages 18-34 and middle-aged evangelicals ages 35-59.
Still, the vast majority--60 percent--of Americans do not hold Jews responsible for the Crucifixion, including those who have seen the movie. However, 42 percent of young people who have seen the movie, and 36 percent of people 35-59, do hold Jews responsible.
In response to another question, 40 percent of Americans say the Bible is the literal word of God, while 42 percent say it is the word of God but should not be read literally.
The portions of Americans who believe Jesus died on the cross (92 percent) and rose from the dead (83 percent) are virtually unchanged since an ABC News poll in 1997 asked the same questions.
The poll of 1,703 Americans has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.