In my previous post, I argued that American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal primarily because of their opposition to the religious right. In 2005, the American Jewish Committee published Jewish Distinctiveness in America, a massive study of the ways in which Jewish political opinion (among other variables) differs from the national average. It turns out that Jews don't differ very much from gentiles on economic policy and government spending issues. But they are vastly more liberal on "social issues" such as abortion, sexual morality, and the role of religion in public life. Table 65 on pg. 269 in the AJC summarizes the extent to which Jewish opinion differs from the national average on a variety of issues (e.g. - if the difference is 5 points, that means that if the national average is 50% support for a given view, the Jewish average is either 45% or 55%). On a variety of questions relating to government spending and taxes, Jews diverge from the national mean by an averageof approximately 7 percent. The difference on "social welfare" policy questions is even smaller (a 4.4% average). And on some of these issues, Jews are actually a bit more conservative than the national average rather than more liberal. For example, only 38% of Jews support government efforts to "reduce income differences," compared to a national average of 43% (Table 42.A), and 70% of Jews believe that their income taxes are too high (compared to 64% of non-Jews). Most strikingly, only 41% of Jews (compared to 52% of gentiles) believe that the government spends "too little" on Social Security, despite the fact that a much higher percentage of Jews than gentiles are senior citizens (Table 38L).
There are, of course, some economic and social welfare issues where Jews are more liberal than the national average (e.g. - education and health care spending), but the differences are relatively small. Moreover, Jewish-gentile differences over economic and social welfare issues have actually narrowed slightly over the last 30 years, as Jews have grown a bit more conservative on these matters (Table 66). The average Jew is hardly a thoroughgoing free market advocate; but his or her views on economic issues are not much different from those of the average gentile.
In sum, if conservatives and the Republican Party were primarily focused on economic and size of government issues [i.e. - if those where the main issues where they differed from the Democrats], they might attract almost as much support from Jews as among gentiles.
By contrast, there are huge gaps between Jewish opinion and the national average on social issues (also from Table 65). In each case, Jews are much more liberal than gentiles (there are virtually no social issue questions where Jewish opinion differs from gentiles in a more conservative direction):
Sexual Morality: 21%
Civil liberties: 13%
Each of these totals averages data from several different questions in the relevant issue area. Some of the results on individual questions are also striking. For example 77% of Jews favor legalized abortion on demand, compared to only 40% of non-Jews (Table 12.G). Similarly, only 18% of Jews believe that homosexual sex is "always wrong" compared to a national average of 59% (Table 16.C). The data also shows that 84% of Jews approve of the Supreme Court's rulings forbidding government-sanctioned prayer in public schools, compared to only 38% of non-Jews (Table 9.C).
Overall, the areas where Jewish opinion differs greatly from the national average are overwhelmingly social issues emphasized by the religious right. As I argued in my last post, it is likely that more Jews would be willing to identify as conservative and/or vote Republican if conservatism and the Republican Party were not so closely identified with right-wing stances on social issues.
The data in the AJC study is derived from General Social Survey questions conducted from 1991 to 2002. I highly doubt that the distribution of Jewish-gentile gap has radically altered over the last few years, but I can't rule out that possibility without analyzing more recent GSS data (which I don't have time to do right now). However, if anyone has done such an analysis, I would be happy to link to it.
For now though, the AJC data strongly support my view that the overwhelming liberalism of American Jews is largely driven by differences with the religious right over social issues. A related factor, of course, is a cultural distaste for the religious right that leads many secular Jews to fear and dislike them over and above the specific details of the disagreements between the two groups.
UPDATE: Some commenters on this and the previous post misinterpret my point, thinking that I am arguing that it would be good political strategy for the Republican Party to give up its ties to the religious right in order to attract more Jewish votes. While I would love to see a more libertarian Republican Party, there is a big difference between my personal preferences and what would be politically wise. There are many more Religious Right voters (perhaps 15-20% of the population) than Jewish ones (about 2%), out there. Alienating the Religious Right in order to increase the party's Jewish vote by 10-20% would be poor strategy. Moreover, Jewish voters are concentrated in states like New York and Massachusetts that would be overwhelmingly Democratic even if the Jews were more evenly divided between the two parties. Even if the percentage of New York Jews who vote Republican doubled, the state would still be heavily blue.
Thus, I don't at all suggest that it would be good political strategy for the Republicans to break with the Religious Right to the extent necessary to attract significantly more Jews. To the contrary, it would probably be a net political loss for them to do so. A more modest downplaying of social conservatism could be politically advantageous, in so far as it might attract more non-Jewish middle class suburbanites without antagonizing the religious right too much. But such incremental moves are unlikely to to make much of a difference with Jews because the latter are so strongly liberal on social issues.
UPDATE #2: Some other commenters misinterpret me as suggesting that Jews have adopted liberal stances on social issues merely because the Religious Right adopts conservative ones. That isn't my argument at all. Rather, I suggest that most Jews strongly dislike the Religious Right because the two groups differ greatly on social issues, as well as because of the massive cultural differences between the two. And they associate conservatism and the Republican Party with the Religious Right. As a result, even many Jews who hold conservative views on economic and foreign policy issues are unwilling to think of themselves as conservatives or to vote Republican, because doing so means supporting a group associated with the Religious Right. The Religious Right did not, in my view, cause Jews to hold liberal views on social issues. But it does explain why so few identify as conservative overall or vote Republican, despite the fact that Jewish and gentile views on many other issues don't differ very much.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Political Ignorance and Jewish Perceptions of Conservatives and the Religious Right:
- American Jews, Liberalism, and the Democratic Party:
- Where American Jewish Opinon Differs from the National Average:
- Why (Native-Born American) Jews Are Liberal: