The complicated American Jewish voter / Our poll reveals some curious truths about what matters — and what doesn´t (NEW YORK DAILY NEWS) y Samuel J. Abrams And Steven M. Cohen 06/21/12)
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Recent polls put President Obama and Mitt Romney neck and neck in the
race for the White House, which means that American Jews will play a
pivotal role in the election — as will every other group, to the
extent that groups, not individuals, cast votes.
How will Jews decide whom to support?
If there’s one issue that tends to preoccupy American Jewish
organizations, it’s Israel’s security, so one would think that Israel
will play a major role in determining the votes of American Jews. A
national survey of 1,000 American Jews we conducted last month for
the Workmen’s Circle, though, provides surprising results to the
Key to understanding this is grasping a dichotomy in American Jewry.
Nine in 10 Jews in the U.S. are not Orthodox; they have historically
leaned Democratic and continue to strongly support Obama.
One in 10 American Jews is Orthodox. In about equal numbers as the
non-Orthodox back Obama, they back Romney.
Not only do Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews arrive at radically
different vote preferences, but they get there by very different
For the Orthodox, two sorts of issues matter: social issues, which we
measured by attitudes on abortion, same-sex marriage, the environment
and the federal mandate for insurance to cover contraception. The
other is Israel attachment, which we measured by emotional attachment
to Israel, as well as identifying as Zionist and as pro-Israel.
We found that social-issues conservatism is far more potent in
predicting their vote than attachment to Israel.
The few Orthodox Jews with liberal views on social issues more often
favor Obama. Those with higher Israel attachment are more frequently
And what about the non-Orthodox, roughly 90% of America’s Jews?
For them, three sorts of considerations matter. The top two are
social-issue liberalism and “economic justice,” an index drawing upon
five key ideals: favoring higher taxes on high-income earners; seeing
the current tax system as unfair; seeing banks as a major threat to
the economy; favoring unions over companies, and favoring more
government help for the poor.
Less important as a vote-driver is “economic conservatism,” i.e.,
worrying about the business climate, taxes and jobs. Those scoring
high on this index lean toward Romney — although not as much as
social-issue and economic-justice liberals swing toward Obama.
And what about Israel attachment — does it matter? Not much, once we
know a voter’s positions on the economy and social issues.
As a group, Romney voters are more attached to Israel than Obama
voters. But Israel attachment just doesn’t differentiate voters one
way or the other after accounting for positions on domestic issues.
The power of economic justice in dividing Obama’s Jewish voters from
Romney’s is clear. On raising taxes for the rich, Obama voters split,
88% to 3%, in favor, in contrast with Romney’s people (32% for, 55%
Favoring unions over companies: 81% to 19% for Obama’s voters and the
reverse (28% to 72%) for Romney’s. On the government doing more to
help the needy: 75% agree and 5% disagree among Obama’s supporters;
among Romney’s, 33% agree, 46% disagree.
With such powerfully disparate views of what’s best for American
society, it comes as no surprise that Israel just doesn’t figure much
in American Jews’ electoral thinking. Even those non-Orthodox Jews
who care deeply about Israel probably see little difference between
the two candidates when it comes to Israel’s security.
Alternatively, supporters of each candidate see their own candidate
as coming closer to their approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Obama’s supporters are confident in Israel’s commitment to peace, but
they’re less confident than Romney’s supporters.
Similarly, Obama’s supporters distrust the Palestinians, but they’re
less distrustful than Romney’s supporters. Asked whether they agree
that the current Israeli government truly wants peace, 72% of
Romney’s supporters agree, as against 48% of Obama’s.
Most Obama supporters, 51%, favor an Israeli settlement freeze on the
West Bank, as against less than a third of Romney’s supporters, 30%,
with the remainder of those polled divided between opponents and
Israel matters to American Jewish voters. But as a driver of votes in
one direction or the other, it’s vastly overrated. Economic justice
and social justice simply matter more — much more.
Abrams is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University,
and a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Cohen is a
fellow of the Engaging Israel Project of the Shalom Hartman Institute
and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU’s Wagner
School. (© Copyright 2012 NYDailyNews.com. 06/21/12)
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