New Study Explores ‘The Jewish Vote’ and Reasons Behind Its Liberal Identity

jew-yarmulka-american-flagAn academic paper on the US Jewish Vote has been released by the Ruderman Family Foundation on the demographics’ origins, tendencies, and how it is set to play yet again a major factor in this November’s US Presidential election.

Published by the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, the research paper was written by Professor Gil Troy of McGill University in Canada and looks closely at the mindset of American Jews when voting for political offices in the US and where this general sense of ‘liberalism’ comes from, as 70-80% of US Jews in the last six Presidential elections have voted Democratic.

From the Executive Summary:

As the 2016 Presidential elections near this November, a wave of predictions and generalizations – left and right – are creating quite the hype surrounding ‘The Jewish Vote.’

  • American Jewry make up approximately 2% of the American electorate, insignificant to tip the scales one way or another. No other constituency this size has candidates scrambling to woo them over – so why the disproportionate frenzy surrounding the Jewish vote?
  • Since the 1930s American Jews have been woven into the fabric of the American political landscape. From civil rights to women’s rights, Jews have been on the frontier of liberal political movements, spearheading social reforms and shaping American policies from within. Jews in America are disproportionately wealthy, charitable and politically engaged, making them critical donors standing out both among wealthy donors and among more modest mass donors. In the 2016 presidential race the Jewish financial vote remained disproportionately important – with estimates that Jewish donors contribute 50 percent of the funds to the Democratic Party and 25 percent to the Republican Party.
  • Jews stand out politically because there are disproportionate numbers of Jewish officeholders and Jewish activists and because of the Electoral College’s “Megaphone Effect”: many key swing states that help determine elections have a high concentration of Jews. This effect was best reflected in 2000 when elderly Jews in Florida misreading the ballot voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore, creating the electoral deadlock that made George W. Bush president.
  • Although the significance of the Jewish vote in American political outcomes is often overestimated; understanding the Jewish vote help explain American Jewish identity. Since the elections in 1928, the majority of American Jews have voted Democratic – usually in the 70% range – and are proud liberals.
  • The Jewish Vote is a story of the great, mutual, love affair between America and its Jews, rooted in American exceptionalism. Why Jews are liberal has been a great American Jewish mystery. Milton Himmelfarb identified this anomaly with his 1973 statement that, “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”
  • Scholars left and right have been puzzled by this bizarre phenomenon, offering explanations ranging from Jewish values of social justice to once-oppressed Jews’ fears of government power. This report offers a historical analysis, suggesting that voting Democratic and being liberal have had different motivations and meanings over the years – but throughout the generations, the left-wing political identity that American Jewish liberals have called essentially “Jewish,” is quintessentially “American” or “American Jewish,” it’s an adaptation of Judaism.
  • Many American Jews see their liberalism as part of their Jewish inheritance, along with rags-to-riches stories of success, candlesticks from the Old Country, and grandma’s matzoh ball recipe.
    American Jews have also inherited the notion, from the Eastern European Jewish left, of “no enemies on the left,” which is why few leave the left even when the Far Left veers toward anti-Zionism.
  • Starting in the 1880s, the first modern Jewish generation of Bourgeois Bolsheviks, the Eastern European immigrants and their kids, came with Socialist idealism and Labor unionist values, hoping to advance individually, familially, but still open to supporting the broader radical communal and national pitch from the Left. Franklin Roosevelt became the great liberal icon – and a figure worshiped by American Jews, bringing them into the Democratic Party.
  • The second generation of “Yuppies with a Conscience,” remembered their parents’ struggles and were grateful to the New Deal for giving their families a new lease on life. They were also rainy day Jews, standing up for Israel and Soviet Jewry when attacked but happy to fit in as much as possible.
  • Today’s third generation of open-spirited Freedom-fromers, pro-choice Jews are deeply, proudly American, although very decidedly Not-Christians. They have most inherited from their understanding of their past and absorbed from post-modern culture fears of restrictions, commitments, norms, imposed from the outside, especially governmentally or religiously. They want freedom from traditional inhibitions and legal restrictions against pre-marital sex, divorce, abortion, homosexuality – and often define that as their Jewish identity.
  • Thus, despite repeated eulogies for the alliance, the liberal-Jewish- Democratic connection has strengthened not weakened since Ronald Reagan. Even though the Republican Party is more pro-Israel than ever, and sometimes more “pro-Israel,” (however you define that) than the Democratic, American Jewish liberalism has become a mentality, a sensibility, an ideology, a cultural identity.
  • American Jews are perceived as voting for Jewish interests, especially regarding Israel, however American Jews are more pro-choice than pro-Israel when voting.
  • This doesn’t make American Jews anti-Israel, on the contrary, they perceive the Democratic party as taking a strong pro-Israel stance, proving that progressive Zionism is not an oxymoron. Thus we can say that American Jews are more pro-choice than pro-Israel in the voting booth, but pro-Israel nevertheless.
  • Israelis will be amused to hear that American Jews define Judaism as liberal.
  • Israelis will be fascinated to learn that many American Jews consider America the Promised Land.
  • Today, more than ever American Jews embrace their liberalism. United by the fear of Evangelicals, ‘Trumps’ and the Tea Party their liberalism is defined by freedom, liberation and autonomy.
  • America’s pro-Israel consensus holds: Once again, in 2016, the Democratic and Republican nominees are squabbling over who is more “pro-Israel” and will better defend the Jewish State.

The complete report The Jewish Vote: Political Power and Identity in US elections  is available for download.