A Snapshot of the American Jewish Electorate: : 2011 Political Survey by Dr. Steven Windmueller

Friday, May 6, 2011

Introduction:

This political survey was intended to provide a snapshot of a number of Jewish voters.  It offers 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.

Further, the findings confirm that from this particular cohort (some 2300 participants) Jews hold deeply embedded policy positions on key domestic and international issues.  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.  This liberal-conservative split models the current political landscape of the country.  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. These messages in many ways confirmed the findings of Frank Luntz[1] and others who have written about the growing presence of angry American voters.  The focus of many of these commentaries negatively depicted the “other” voting group (namely, liberals offering viewpoints on conservatives or conservatives providing comments about liberals).

This particular voter sample demonstrated a high level of Jewish institutional connection.  Similarly, within this sample there appeared to be congruence around shared class values, educational achievements, income capacity, and institutional affiliation patterns.  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 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 as seen in this survey), the absence in reasonable numbers of “millennial Jews” (younger Jewish participants), and “New Jews” (including those who are converts to Judaism or who have over the past two decades entered the United States as new citizens from other parts of the world).

One of the more intriguing elements of this study 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.

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 “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?

In seeking to define the characteristics of the voters who elected to participate in this survey, four distinctive “types” seem evident.

The Red State Jewish Voter: These individuals reflect in their political behavior a particular commitment to social conservative principles; some within this camp often demonstrate less of an ideological or policy interest in domestic affairs.  This cohort of the Jewish vote is particularly supportive of a strong US-Israel relationship and values the importance of a strong American military, along with an American foreign policy agenda that is specifically designed to respond to international terrorism and the nation’s security concerns.

The Tea Party Jewish Voter:  This may be the newest classification of the contemporary Jewish voter.  Joining with other Americans who are specifically concerned with the financial well-being of the nation, these voters reflect a particular commitment to what they define as traditional values.  Similar to other conservative voters, they have embraced the idea of limited government and the affirmation of the rights of the individual, etc… 

The Blue State Jewish Voter: This bloc represents the more traditional democratic liberal Jewish activist; these voters over the course of decades dominated the Jewish political scene. Their politics reflected an alignment of their Jewish and civic values on behalf of an array of social causes.

The Blue-Dog Jewish Voter:  This subset of the Democratic Party consists of Jewish voters whose views on the social and economic agenda tend to be more conservative than the standard ideological positions of the party and who have adopted a strong defense policy, a commitment to protect and support American interests, including Israel.

Crossing many of these definitional categories, one could identify a “passionate quotient” that served to align Jewish participants from a number of these ideological camps.  A shared concern for the well-being and security of Israel and a joint commitment to national security and to the fight against international terrorism were the core elements that seemed to engage many of those participating in this survey, regardless of political party or socio-economic status.

As will be confirmed below, there are distinctive divides along religious movement lines, by political party affiliation, by gender, and to lesser degrees by age and geography. 

Among the long term questions raised by this and other studies, will American Jewish political behavior change, as Jews move into the fourth and fifth generation of their American journey?

Unpacking the Results:

The general profile of the respondents to this survey:

Average Age:                                56 (17 respondents were under 20 and 5 indicated that                                 

                                                        they were over 90).

Geographical Patterns:                While every state was represented, of the 923

                                                        individuals who responded to this question, nearly

                                                        one-half of the sample resided in three states,

                                                        California, New York and Florida.

Income Levels:                              70% reported earnings of over $75,000 

Educational Achievements:         Over 90% of the participants held college degrees,             

                                                        with 51% holding advanced degrees.

Gender:                                         56% of those surveyed were men; 44% were women

 Affiliation Patterns:                      Over 70% of the participants indicated that they held

                                                        an affiliation with a synagogue, significantly higher                 

                                                        than the national average as reported in other studies.

As has been reported often, Jews are among the most highly engaged political constituencies.  In this study 99% of the participants indicated that had voted in one or more elections covering the past ten years.  Similarly, one in two respondents had given money to a political party, and 87% supported Jewish organizational and civic causes over the past year.

 Those surveyed were asked to rank Jewish institutions which they viewed as politically the “most influential”. 

  • AIPAC             58%
  • ADL                  7%
  • RJC                    6%
  • Federations        6%

The primary causes mentioned involved: federations, an array of Israel-based institutions, AIPAC, and AJWS (American Jewish World Service).

 Participants in this survey belong to an array of secular and civic organizations:

  •  AARP                                                                                 235
  • ACLU                                                                                199
  • NRA                                                                                   154
  • NARAL                                                                              148
  • Amnesty International                                                         86
  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State       63
  • League of Women Voters                                                     62

When asked if they had donated over the past five years to PAC’s (Political Action Committees), 39% (or some 778 participants) referenced their connections to these types of organizations. Elsewhere, participants in the study noted that they were supporting such political causes as Emily’s List, Move-On.com, GOPAC and an array of other organizations.

Political Passions:

Respondents were asked to identify their political “identities”:

 

 

Democrats

Republicans

No Affiliation

Extremely Liberal                                          

171

2

17

Liberal 

524

1

27

Slightly Liberal                                               

163

3

31

Moderate or Middle of the Road                    

141

56

62

Slightly Conservative                                        

57

144

68

Conservative

34

449

67

Extremely Conservative                                      

5

109

13

Total:                                                             

1095

764

285

Some 13 individuals identified themselves as “Libertarian”.

More than half of the survey respondents indicated that they had contributed over the past year  to one of the political parties, with 50% from this sample giving to the Republican Party (some 577 individuals), compared to 48% of Democrats (551).  19 individuals noted that they had made contributions to the Libertarian Party.  In the comment space provided in the survey in response to this inquiry, some 25 respondents indicated that they had made gifts to one or more of the Tea Party groups. 

When asked to discuss their impressions of the Tea Party, the participants in this study offered the following reflections:

 

 

Refreshing

Alarming

Neither

Total

Democrats   

97

805

201

1103

Republicans     

672

18

80

770

Independents     

137

86

71

294

                                          

 67% of Orthodox Jews found the Tea Party “Refreshing”; 45% of Conservative Jews concurred, while 27% of Reform Jews expressed themselves as favorable to this political movement. Among all of those who identified with the Tea Party goals, 69% were men.

The most significant divisions among voters centered around domestic issues, where the divide among Jewish Democrats and Republicans can be seen most clearly.  When asked about their involvement with “special political and social causes,” the disparity is most evident:

 

Issue:

Democrat

Republican

Civil Liberties                                     

342

74

ChurchState                                       

417

99

Environment 

314

178

Hunger and Homelessness                 

310

47

Women’s Issues                                  

422

40

In three specific policy areas (same sex marriage, guns, and the Muslim proposal to construct a community center near Ground Zero), one can identify a sharp political divide by political party and in some cased by other indicators, including religious affiliation:

Same Sex Marriages:

“I believe that government should permit same sex marriages.”

Agree:       Democrats:  947            Republicans: 208

Disagree: Democrats:    97             Republicans: 513

Guns and Jews:

“I support legislation controlling the access to and purchase of guns.”

Agree:        Democrats: 969            Republicans:   232

Disagree:   Democrats:  80              Republicans:  490

77% of Reform Jews concurred with this proposition, as did 66% of Conservative Jews and 56% of the Orthodox.

40% of those who disagreed with this statement were Conservative Jews, another 30% were Reform Jews. 19% of the respondents to this position identified as Orthodox.

It should be noted that of the 105 respondents who indicated that they financially supported the NRA (National Rifle Association), 43% were Conservative Jews.  32% were Reform and 15% were Orthodox.  A number of participants also noted their affiliation with Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (http://jpfo.org/).

 Muslim Community Center near Ground Zero:

Another question that evoked strong and divided opinions involved the issue of the construction of a Muslim community center (mosque) near Ground Zero.  Of the 1039 Democrats who responded to this question, 650 individuals endorsed this proposition.  Of the 737 Republicans who responded to this question, 655 indicated their opposition to this proposal, while only 59 participants approved this idea.

When asked to identify the most important issues for voters, the five most prominent responses were

1549 Policies on the Arab-Israel Conflict

1391 Economy and Trade

1244 Health Care

1233 President’s Record

1116 Homeland Security and International Terrorism

A sixth factor which drew significant reaction involved Supreme Court Nominees (1027).

 Snapshot of Other Domestic Issues:

Surrounding several additional domestic themes, there are less defined ideological or policy differences:

“A woman should have the right to an abortion.”

 Agree:                Democrats:  1038   Republicans:  504

 Disagree:          Democrats:      15   Republicans:  205

 Libertarian voters overwhelmingly endorsed this statement (11 of 13).

“I support the President’s efforts to create a national health care program.”

Agree:                 Democrats:  1038   Republicans:  442

Disagree:            Democrats:      13   Republicans:  270

Those identifying with the Libertarian Party almost unanimously opposed this initiative (12 out of 13).

“Government should encourage and support stem cell research for the purposes of advancing medical knowledge.”

Agree:                 Democrats:  1038    Republicans: 442

Disagree:             Democrats:     13     Republicans: 270

On the issue of providing government funding to parochial/religious day schools both groups overwhelming opposed such assistance; Democrats by a 3 to 1 ratio and Republicans by a 2 to 1 margin.

Voter Preferences:

These voters reflected a far more even distribution than the national polls provided when noting their Presidential choices covering the past two campaigns:

2004 Election:

Candidate     Vote      Percentage

Kerry            1052            50%

Bush               929            44%

Nader               15              1%

Total:            2119

2008 Election:

Candidate    Vote       Percentage

Obama          1077              51%

McCain          948               45%

Total:            2116

Some 2025 respondents noted their preferences at this time for the 2012 campaign. Among the most significant names referenced were

President Obama       886 (44%)

Another Candidate    244

Mitt Romney              228

Newt Gingrich           119

Rudy Giuliani            114

Tim Powlenty            104

The Obama Factor:

There has been considerable interest in how well regarded President Obama is perceived among Jewish voters.  As Americans prepare for the 2012 elections, the traditional engagement of Jews with the Democratic nominee has been seen as a given within the Democratic Party. Since the early part of the 20th Century this particular political connection has been in place. Will it continue?

Within this study of the 886 individuals who identified the President as current “preference” for the 2012 elections,

 Gender: 499 were women, as compared to 387 men.

 Religious Affiliation: 61% of Reform Jews endorsed the President, while 40% of

                                     Conservative Jews did so. Only 17% of Orthodox Jews supported                

                                     President Obama.

 Region:  Jews from the Far West (49.7%) and Northeast (53.7%); in contrast, only 32%

              of the Jews from Florida in this sample endorsed the President.

Religious Affiliation and Political Participation:

The participants in this study hold a much higher level of affiliation with Jewish institutions than the norm.  For example, some 71% of the respondents (1489) to question 34 which dealt with synagogue membership so indicated their affiliation, while 29% (594) noted that they were not a part of a congregation.

Reform                     645 (39%)

Conservative            567 (35%)

Orthodox                  212 (13%)

Other                        111 (7%)

Non-Denominational 75 (5%)

Reconstruction           30 (2%)

64% of the Reform Jews in this study identified as “Democrats”, 24% as “Republicans”.  50% of Conservative Jews consider themselves “Democrats,” while 38% noted that they were “Republicans.”  Among Orthodox Jews 51% were “Republicans” and 30% listed themselves as “Democrats”.  The remainder either declined to identify their party affiliation, classified themselves as “independent,” or indicated a third party, i.e. Green, Libertarian, etc.

News Sources:

Respondents were asked to identify were they secured their news:

On Line                    628 (30%)

Newspapers              542 (26%)

Television                 441 (21%)

Radio                        230 (11%)

Blogs                          48 (2%)

When asked to name the news outlets that were most regularly used, this group identified the following five sources as the most often “visited”. These included:

New York Times

CNN

JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

Fox News

Yahoo

 Other publications and news sources that were consistently referenced included:

IsraelSources:  Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz

BBC

WashingtonPost

Los AngelesTimes

Huffington Post

Israel and Related International Issues:

Support for Israel, as anticipated, was extremely high among all participants, whether reviewed on the basis of religious movement or political affiliation.  Most of this sample overwhelmingly endorsed policies and actions designed to re-enforce support for Israel.

However on a series of specific issues impacting Israel, there were significant and sharp divides among participants based on their party affiliations.

“In dealing with international concerns, the United States should try and work through the UN and other multinational organizations.”

                               Agree                                     Disagree

Democrats:              819                                              215

Republicans:            136                                             596 

“I believe that American Jews ought to support Israeli policies.” 

 

 

Always

Most of the Time

Some of the Time

Rarely

None of the Time

Democrats:

98

540

379

9

5

Republicans:        

259

422

53

2

0

Independents:

50

140

67

2

0

Of the 1158 men who would answer this question only 8 expressed reservations related to supporting Israel by indicating “rarely” or “none of the time”; similarly, of the 891 women who responded to this item, only 13 so indicated any level of concern for endorsing Israel.

When measuring this question through the lens of religion, Reform Jews were more reluctant to embrace Israeli actions, as nearly 33% of this religious cohort indicated support only “some of the time”.  Only 22% of Conservative and 15% of the Orthodox participants expressed such reservations.  Reconstructionist Jews scored the highest within this category as 85% of this community of participants either expressed support for Israeli policies “some of the time” or “none” of the time.

Regarding concessions related to the status of Jerusalem, both Jewish Democrats and Republicans oppose this proposition.  Republicans oppose this principle more definitely than Democrats.  Some 427 Democrats reject concessions, while some 660 Republicans do so.  Independent voters also affirm this position related to Jerusalem.

Regarding the support for the creation of a Palestinian State, within the context of a two state solution, Democrats by a five to one majority endorsed such a proposition.  Three of every five Republicans who answered this particular question opposed the creation of a Palestinian State.

Overwhelming numbers of both Jewish Republicans and Democrats embraced the proposition supporting United States military action in order to prevent Iran from securing nuclear weapons.  Of 750 Republican respondents, 655 endorsed such a notion.

Regionalization and Political Patterns:

The survey included participants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as a number of American citizens living abroad.  In most areas, geography or region was not a particular determinant or key characteristic of political behavior. 

 

 

 

West[2]

East[3]

All Others

Total

I am a registered member of one of the Political Parties: (Select One)

Democrat

277

357

498

1132

Green

1

0

4

5

Libertarian

6

1

7

14

Republican

169

157

462

788

Other

3

6

11

20

Currently, I have no political party affiliation.

62

70

176

308

Total

518

591

1158

2267

 

 

 

 

West

East

All Others

Total

Recently the Tea Party has been in the news. Among the principles of the Tea Party are fiscal responsibility, etc…

Refreshing

204

210

519

933

Alarming

222

295

400

917

Neither

91

84

183

358

Total

517

589

1102

2208

As demonstrated elsewhere, the particular interest in and support for Tea Party ideas was significantly high; in this particular sample, participants from all regions of the country exhibited such sentiments.

In the slide below, the distribution of support for 2012 candidates is provided by employing a regional framework: 

 

 

 

West

East

All Others

Total

At this time I am considering supporting for the 2012 Presidential Election the following individual.

Michele Bachmann (Congresswoman from Minnesota)

18

9

24

51

Haley Barbour (Governor of Mississippi)

3

3

13

19

Jim DeMint (Senator from South Carolina)

3

7

18

28

Newt Gingrich (Former Speaker of the House)

29

28

62

119

Rudy Giuliani (Former Mayor of New York)

31

29

54

114

Mike Huckabee (Former Governor of Arkansas)

5

31

39

75

Barack Obama (44th President of the United States)

245

280

374

899

Sarah Palin (Former Governor of Alaska)

9

18

42

69

Ron Paul (Congressman from Texas)

8

3

15

26

Tim Pawlenty (Former Governor of Minnesota)

19

25

60

104

Mitt Romney (Former Governor of Massachusetts)

55

57

116

228

Donald Trump (New York Businessman)

12

10

27

49

Another Candidate, please specify:

52

67

125

244

Total

489

567

969

2025

 Some Reflections:

All errors in the design and operational elements of this survey are my responsibility. I am most appreciative to many of you for your thoughtful comments and suggestions, as well as your critical eye and input.  This was in many ways a learning process for those of us engaged in this work.  My special thanks to those persons who reviewed the survey instrument in advance, offering their helpful comments concerning its design and distribution.  I am appreciative to the many Anglo-Jewish newspaper editors who carried the link to this study and to wide range of organizational and community professionals who shared this questionnaire with their lay leaders and colleagues.  I am particularly grateful to Kenna Cottrill for her patience and her wisdom in helping me to implement the survey and to analyze the resulting data.

 We were impressed by the significant numbers of individuals who elected to participate, sharing their passions, interests, and information. Hundreds of you requested that the data gleaned from this survey be shared with you, and we are committed to honoring your request.

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 Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He teaches at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. To read more of Dr.Windmueller’s work, see: www.thewindreport.com.

 




[2]“West” here includes Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington

[3]“East”  refers to Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York


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