Political Attitudes of Russian Jewish Immigrants

In a comment on my last post on Russian Jewish immigration, University of North Carolina law professor and blogger Eric Muller writes:

Again and again I find myself wondering to what extent it’s true that Jewish refugees/emigres from Soviet totalitarianism (and their offspring) tend to have a libertarian and/or conservative political orientation. Does anyone know whether this has been studied? Are Eugene, Sasha, and Ilya typical in this regard, or atypical?

There is actually survey data on this, which reveals that some 75% of Russian Jewish immigrants vote Republican, as compared to only about 20% of native-born American Jews. The same pattern is evident among other refugees from communism, such as Cubans and Vietnamese. The reasons are not hard to figure out. The experience of living under communism makes these refugee groups hostile to anything that smacks of socialism and also to those political parties and ideologies that they perceive (with some justice) as having been soft on communism during the latter part of the Cold War. This in turn leads them to be more “right-wing” than they might have been otherwise. As I discuss in my immigration memoir, I probably would have become a liberal or leftist had I been born in the US and had the same interests and personality.

The overwhelming majority of Russian Jews in legal and social science academia tend to be conservative or libertarian (more often the latter), which is in sharp contrast to the generally left-wing orientation of the vast majority of other US academics. My impression is that rank and file Russian Jewish immigrants also tend to be on the right, more libertarian-leaning than conservative (e.g. – most are pro-choice and favor fairly strong separation of church and state). Obviously, most are not nearly as self-conscious or consistent in their libertarian leanings as academics such as Sasha and myself. And the term “libertarian” is probably not familiar to most of them, just as it isn’t to the majority of the 10-15% of other Americans who hold generally libertarian views.