NEW YORK — New findings released this week from a post-election survey of American Jews confirm that US Jews lean left by a wide margin on economic issues.
The findings were celebrated Friday by the National Jewish Democratic Council as proof that “American Jews are firmly aligned with the Democratic Party.”
The findings show an across-the-board preference for increased social spending and government regulation on most economic questions. In fact, opposition to liberal economic policies, which ranges from 25 to 30 percent in the new findings, correlates almost exactly with the estimated 30% of Jews who voted for Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.
The findings also confirm other recent polls that have suggested economic issues are foremost on Jewish Americans’ minds when they participate in the American political process.
The latest findings were released by the left-wing New York-based Workmen’s Circle this week, with the figures gleaned from a national survey of American Jews conducted just after Election Day by NYU’s Prof. Steven Cohen and Prof. Samuel Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College. It drew on 2,671 American Jews who responded to a pre-election survey, and a follow-up post-election survey with 2,067 of them.
Respondents identified overwhelmingly as “liberal” (55%) rather than “conservative” (26%). The remaining 19% identified as moderate. These figures coincide with findings published by the Republican Jewish Coalition in November showing 56% of Jews affiliating with the Democratic Party and 19% with the Republicans.
That split was mirrored on several issues polled. Some 55% of Jewish voters favor government regulation of business, while 28% expressed a more skeptical view of regulation. Jews prefer lowering defense spending to increasing it by a similar factor, 53-26. And Jews believe Medicare can be saved without a loss in benefits by a factor of 50% to 28%.
Support for liberal economic policies seems to decline somewhat when government spending is an explicit part of the question.
Thus, when asked to choose between the phrase, “Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently,” and the phrase, “Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return,” Jews sided with the first by a lower 43-31 margin.
When asked even more explicitly to choose between “the contrasting positions of fewer government services with reduced spending vs. many more services with increased spending,” Jews favored more services by an even narrower margin, 43% to 37%.
The findings also reaffirmed the old aphorism of American Jewish sociologist Milton Himmelfarb that Jews “earn like Episcopalians, and vote like Puerto Ricans,” showing that left-leaning economic views were not connected to income. “Those earning over $250,000 express liberal views on economic justice as frequently as those earning far less. Jews earning $250,000 or more were as likely as lower-earning Jews to vote for Obama and other Democrats,” the study found.
The study noted that “commitment to Israel exerted the least impact among six issues measured, in sharp contrast to the powerful influence of economic justice attitudes. That is, once a voter’s positions were determined on economic justice, their attachment to Israel made hardly any difference in predicting their vote for President, Senate and the House.”
Recent polls, including a post-election exit poll conducted by pollster Jim Gerstein for the left-wing group J Street, also showed that Israel was not an influential issue driving the American Jewish vote. In the Gerstein poll, 53% of Jews said the economy was the foremost issue on their minds, followed by 32% who said health care. Israel scored much lower on the list, with just 10% saying it was their top election issue.
But Israel’s low showing in the list of top priorities does not reflect lack of concern for Israel, pollsters have said. The post-election Republican Jewish Coalition-funded study asked bluntly: “In making your decision on whom to vote for president, how important were issues concerning Israel in your decision?” Asked directly, 77% of Jews said Israel was either “very important” (30%) or “somewhat important” (46%).
The discrepancy has been explained as reflecting American Jewish confidence in both parties’ commitment to Israel. Thus, while a huge majority of Jews said Israel was an important issue, only 23% told the RJC-funded study that President Barack Obama was “pro-Palestinian,” compared with almost two-thirds who said he was either “pro-Israeli” (45%) or “neutral” (17%).