More on Jewish Voting Patterns in Election 2008


[H/t to A.L. and Sultan Knish]

As I’ve written elsewhere, talk of the “Jewish community” or the “Jewish vote” is misguided as there are many Jewish communities and these various communities have different voting patterns. For example, Reform Jews generally vote Democratic while the Orthodox tend to vote Republican.

Nevertheless, polls are one way of measuring voter preference. In a previous post I mentioned a (flawed) poll that had Jews voting for McCain over Obama 54 percent to 32 percent. Here are some more recent poll results (article from the JPost):

Barack Obama leads John McCain by 27 points among Jewish voters, according to a new survey.

Obama leads 57 percent to 30% among those polled in the American Jewish Committee’s 2008 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, with 13% undecided, but he significantly trails the Jewish vote for recent Democratic presidential candidates.

By contrast, John Kerry received 76% of the Jewish vote four years ago against George W. Bush, and in the three prior presidential elections, Democrats won 78% to 80% of Jewish votes. The 2004 AJC survey, taken three weeks earlier in that campaign than this year, found Kerry leading 69% to 24%.

The poll by survey research organization Synovate of 914 self-identifying Jewish respondents, selected from Synovate’s consumer mail panel, was conducted by telephone September 8-21. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

McCain enjoyed a 78% to 13% lead among Orthodox Jews, but Obama won easily among all other Jewish groups: Conservatives, 59% to 26%; Reform, 62% to 27%; and those calling themselves “just Jewish,” 61% to 26%.

Sultan Knish has this to add:

Jews do vote fairly predictably but the most predictable percentage of the Jewish vote breaks down into three categories, senior citizens who grew up with FDR or the memory of FDR and treat the Democratic party as a safety blanket against fascism and the depression, Jewish women for whom gender is highly important and are career oriented and thirdly an assimilated class of politically liberal yuppies with very little in the way of a Jewish identity…

McCain will however not make a great deal of inroads with the latter category of younger liberal yuppies because they are liberal first, followed by a catalog card of identities, with Jewish and American appearing on the list somewhere in the back or not at all. Which is why asking why they don’t vote following Jewish interests or Israel is pointless, because they really don’t consider themselves particularly Jewish. And really they aren’t.

I usually avoid denying a particular identity to people (Jewish, leftist, conservative, etc.), especially when they self-identify with that particular identity. For example, if someone identifies themselves as Jewish I don’t question that. But the Sultan is correct in pointing out the mushiness of this identity (and the concept of identity in general) as well as the notion that all of us are packages of an assortment of interrelated identities (religious, class, ethnic, political, nationality, gender, etc.). Which identity takes precedence? And can we ever truly disentangle these identities from each other?

2 responses »

  1. Progressivism is something that’s built into the core values of Judaism, in a central concept called tikkun olam. This explains why Jews, irrespective of even income, tend to vote liberal/Democratic.

    The Orthodox tend to vote Republican generally for one focal point: Israel. They tend to be more hawkish.

  2. JM, I’m not sure where to start. I guess the first place would be asking you what does tikkun olam mean in the Torah? In case you don’t know where I am going with this, I think the concept has a different meaning in the Torah than the meaning promoted by political activists.

    I am not a Torah scholar. My Hebrew is practically non-existent. But it is my understanding that tikkun olam does not refer to a repairing of the world by adopting “progressive” social, economic and political policies. Instead, the Torah implores Jews to repair the world by following the mitzvot of Judaism. That is an important difference.

    As to why Jews tend to vote Democratic, I think there are a couple of reasons. The first is historical and the second is familial.

    For a long, long, time in this country, Jews were simply not welcome in the Republican Party. Nor were blacks, Catholics, Asians, or other non-WASPs. Things changed slowly. First, the party opened up to Catholics. Primarily the sort of so-called “traditionalist” Catholics like Pat Buchanan and Mel Gibson who are intensely anti-Semitic. What Jew would want to join such a party?

    I realize things have changed and the Republican party is not the same as it was in the past. After all, a lot of the anger directed at Jewish neo-conservatives by paleo-conservatives like Buchanan is thinly veiled anti-Semitism. The paleos realize the party has changed and they are quite upset about it. But this has been a change for the good. For the party and for Jews as well. No party should have a monopoly on the votes of any religious, ethnic or racial group. We should vote based on which party represents our interests and values.

    The familial element is one independently minded Americans are reluctant to admit. We like to think of ourselves as free thinking individuals, unencumbered by the thoughts and beliefs—especially social and political beliefs—of our parents. But in study after study, political scientists have found the greatest factor in determining the political affiliation and voting patterns of individuals is the political affiliation of their parents.. If the parents voted Democrat, chances are the son or daughter will as well. Of course there are some exceptions to the rule, but it is still a rule.

    Regarding your final point:

    “The Orthodox tend to vote Republican generally for one focal point: Israel. They tend to be more hawkish.”

    It is important to differentiate between the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox. As you may be aware, some ultras are actually anti-Zionist.

    In the case of the Orthodox, support for Israel is certainly part of it but not the entire story. The Orthodox also tend to support the sorts of “family values” issues promoted by social conservatives such as opposition to gay marriage. So that is important to keep in mind.

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