American Jewish Voters Are More Pro-choice Than pro-Israel, Study Finds

The Jewish vote in America is about 'cultural identity and shared fears more than political stands or personalities,' history scholar says.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughs as she meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, September 27, 2012.
Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughs as she meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, September 27, 2012.Credit: Reuters
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

How important is Israel for progressive-minded Jewish voters in the United States these days?

According to Gil Troy, a scholar of Jewish American history from McGill University, Israel remains an issue for Jewish American voters though not the only issue. Or as he writes in a scholarly paper published on Monday: “Ultimately, they are more pro-choice than pro-Israel, but they are pro-Israel nonetheless.”

Despite perceptions to the contrary, Troy argues that the Republican Party has not won over a significant share of the Jewish American vote in recent decades. In fact, quite the opposite. “Non-Orthodox Jewish millennials are even more committed than their parents to a liberal cultural agenda and share many of their liberal or ‘Blue state’ peers’ fear of Republicans and Evangelical Christians,” he writes in this rather timely research project.

Their affinity with the Democratic Party, he contends, is as much a party of their Jewish inheritance as “rags-to-riches stories of success, candlesticks from the Old Country, and grandma’s matzoh ball recipe.”

The research project, titled “The Jewish Vote: Political Power and Identity in U.S. Elections,” was made possible through a grant from The Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, where Troy holds a position. In addition to tracing Jewish American voting patterns over the years, the paper attempts to assess the significance of the so-called “Jewish vote.”

In the paper, Troy notes that although Jews account for only 2 percent of eligible voters in the United States, “the Jewish financial vote remains disproportionately important.” According to his estimates, in the 2016 presidential campaign, Jewish donors contributed an overwhelming 50 percent of the funds to the Democratic Party and 25 percent to the Republican Party. Since the 1928 presidential election, he notes, an overwhelming majority of American Jews – in the vicinity of 70-80 percent – have typically voted for the Democratic candidate.

Jewish voters are also sought out, according to Troy, because they tend to be concentrated in important swing states and because of their high turnout rate. On average, 85 percent of Jews vote in a presidential election, as compared with less than 50 percent of the general public.

Although abortion rights may take precedence over Israel for most progressive-minded American Jews heading to the ballot box, notes Troy, that does not mean they have turned against the Jewish state. “On the contrary,” he writes. “They perceive the Democratic Party as taking a strong pro-Israel stance, proving that progressive Zionism is not an oxymoron.”

In his paper, Troy tries to answer what he describes as “one of the great American Jewish sociological, political and ideological mysteries:” Why are Jews liberal, and why do they continue voting overwhelmingly for the Democratic party even though America has changed, liberalism has changed and the Jewish community has changed? Ultimately, he concludes, the American Jewish vote is about “cultural identity and shared fears more than political stands or personalities.” Today, he writes, they are united in their fears of “Evangelicals, ‘Trumps’ and the Tea Party.”

Responding to the report, Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at HUC-JIR, and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University, commented:

"It's a mystery why centrists and conservatives find Jewish liberalism a mystery. They expect Jews to vote their economic class interests, when in fact income is a fairly poor predictor of voting in America and when poorer Jews are often Orthodox or less well-educated.

"In addition, Jews are more liberal in their political identities (as "Democrats" or as "liberals") than they are in their positions. In other words, they identify with the liberal camp, for two reasons, at least: They are socially a minority group (like Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ, Muslim-Americans, etc.) and they are extraordinarily well-educated.

"So, it's surprising that anyone still finds Jewish liberal either surprising or contrary to Jews' interests and social values."

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