Survey Confirms Depth of the Political Divide Among Jewish Voters

In a study conducted by Hebrew Union College Professor Steven Windmueller involving some 2300 Jewish voters the findings confirm a deep liberal-conservative split which models the current political landscape of the country.

In this particular study one finds a distinctive Jewish conservative voice emerging on Israel-related matters and an array of domestic social issues. The data also suggests that among highly engaged Jews, those who are active within Jewish religious and communal life, there is a sharp divide on political attitudes and policies. The intensity of this political and social disconnect could also be seen in the additional comments offered by many participants to this survey. In the statements that accompanied a number of specific questions and at the conclusion to the study, participants offered a broad range of personal and policy reflections as well as portrayed the anger and concern existing within the Jewish community about the political well-being of the country and the status of the State of Israel.

One of the more intriguing elements of this study, according to Dr. Windmueller, dealt with attitudes associated with the Tea Party movement. Here, one finds a strong impulse on the part of participants to declare themselves as either highly engaged or “refreshed” by this new set of political voices or highly “alarmed” or concerned about this movement. This divide among respondents ought to be seen as the framing statement concerning the overall survey findings, namely a deep and growing political division among American Jews. Whatever the actual numerical or even ideological breakdown within the Jewish community, such conclusions can not be confirmed as a result of this research.

The “Obama Factor” represented another significant phenomenon within this study. Fewer participants in this survey endorsed the Obama Presidency than would appear to be the national percentage of Jewish support for the Democratic standard-bearer, based on the 2008 election results. One of the unknown elements that may be reflected in this survey has to with what factors might drive Jews next year to reconnect with the President or move them away from their traditional base within the Democratic Party.

This political survey was intended to provide a snapshot of a significant number of Jewish voters (2300 individuals participated). The survey link was made available during the month of March to an array of Jewish organizations, media and press outlets, and selected websites, allowing individuals to access on-line the survey document, which involved some 40 questions with space for selected comments.

The results reveal some interesting insights into the depth and intensity of Jewish political engagement, but by the nature of this study it does not permit one to make any defining conclusions. This particular voter sample demonstrated a high level of Jewish institutional connection, significantly stronger than the general Jewish population base. Similarly, within this voter cohort, there appeared to be congruence around shared class values, educational achievements, income capacity, and institutional affiliation patterns. Windmueller discovered that these voters reflected a commonality of background, yet highly divergent political outcomes and social priorities. The data around personal achievement and institutional connection reaffirmed the extraordinary levels of accomplishment that in many ways have defined American Jewry. This cohort specifically reflected the perceived make-up and character of the Jewish communal activist, fully aligned with the “organized” Jewish community enterprise, while socially linked to the broader society and American culture.

Absent from this study were various key “voices” within the community, a significant body of less-engaged “just Jewish” (individuals who identify as Jews but often don’t hold the array of affiliations and social connections within the Jewish communal system as seen in this survey),and the absence in reasonable numbers of “millennial Jews” (younger Jewish participants), as well as “New Jews,” those who have converted to Judaism and “New Americans,” involving individuals and families who have over the past several decades entered the United States from other parts of the world.

Among the areas of significant disconnect among Jewish voters was the issue of guns, gun control, and the support of such institutions as the NRA. For the small number of Libertarians within this sample and for some other respondents, there was a particular and distinctive emphasis on individual freedoms, which ran counter to the general framework of the responses received.

Older participants in this survey demonstrated a more traditional connection to liberal values, candidates, and causes. Younger voters in turn appeared to reflect a more independent basis related to their party connections and political outlook. This assertion has been confirmed in other recent surveys. Similar to other studies, younger Jewish voters would also appear to be less connected ideologically and politically to the case for Israel.

The complete survey findings and analysis are available through the office of Professor Windmueller, Steven Windmueller serves as the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the College-Institute’s Los Angeles Jack H.Skirball campus.