In this recent column, conservative writer David Frum points out that Margaret Thatcher represented a heavily Jewish constituency, had numerous Jewish advisers and cabinet members, and won the Jewish vote in her electoral campaigns as leader of the Conservative Party.
These are not new revelations. As I pointed out in this post, which cites Thatcher’s success with British Jews along with other examples, the US pattern of Jewish voters overwhelmingly supporting the political left is unusual relative to other English-speaking democracies. In Britain, Canada, and Australia, Jews either disproportionately vote for right of center parties or at least do so at roughly the same rate as the gentile population. Some of the conservative politicians supported by Jews in these countries are not as far to the right on economic and foreign policy issues as the US Republican Party. But that certainly wasn’t true of Thatcher, or some of the others. These patterns undermine claims that there is some sort of general Jewish affinity for the left. Even in the United States, Russian immigrant Jews (about 12% of the Jewish population), vote overwhelmingly Republican.
As I explained in this series of posts, native-born American Jews’ unusual voting patterns are in large part the result of the link between the Republicans and the Religious Right, which many Jews see as anti-Semitic, and as seeking to establish Christianity as a quasi-official religion. Many Jews also dislike that movement’s extreme social conservatism. Jewish opinion doesn’t differ much from the national average on economic policy, but Jews are much more socially liberal than gentiles. Conservative parties elsewhere in the English-speaking world have fewer Religious Right connections than the Republicans and are less socially conservative than they are.
Absent the Religious Right, American Jews would not suddenly all become loyal Republicans. But they would probably divide their votes between the parties much more evenly than is the case today.
UPDATE: As I noted in my very first post on the subject, I am well aware that Jews disproportionately voted Democratic even before the rise of the Religious Right. But that does not explain why they continue to be overwhelmingly Democratic today, even as many other groups that were part of the New Deal Democratic coalition have become much more evenly divided:
I should note that in my view the Religious Right factor is what explains the overwhelming dominance of liberalism among American Jews today. It does not explain their support for the Democratic Party in earlier periods (e.g. – from the 1930s to the 1950s), when the political situation was very different and Jews themselves were much poorer then they became later. Many other groups were overwhelmingly Democratic at the high point of the New Deal coalition (e.g. – Catholics, “white ethnics,” etc.) but became far less so as they became more affluent and the political landscape changed. Strikingly, the Jews did not change similarly, and I believe that the Religious Right factor is a crucial reason why they didn’t.