May 4, 2000
A Portrait of American Jews
Ethnic poll find U.S. Jews increasingly rooted in society
Their earning power outstrips any other ethnic group, yet they continue to vote very much the way Blacks and Hispanics do.
These statistics may sound like the setup to some tired ethnic joke or chicken soup homily, but they're actually the latest in social-science research.
They are part of an intriguing new portrait of American Jews that has emerged from a groundbreaking study of ethnic America. Conducted last winter by Zogby International in cooperation with the New Jersey Jewish News, the studies, the Zogby Culture Polls, attempt to shed new light on a variety of American ethnic groups by examining them side by side.
The study consists of a series of identical surveys administered simultaneously to six different ethnic groups: Jews, Hispanics, and Asian, African, Arab and Italian Americans. The result is perhaps the first fully rounded statistical snapshot of America's ethnic mosaic, or an important chunk of it.
By mapping the contours of individual ethnic subcultures alongside one another, the researchers hoped to produce a sort of relief map of the broader society, as well as a more rounded profile of each individual group.
The surveys were conducted between Dec. 14, 1999 and Feb. 7, 2000. Sample sizes varied, as did margins of error. The Jewish sample numbered 589 people, with a 4.1 percent margin of error.
The portrait of American Jews that emerges from the poll is at once familiar and surprising. Jews are increasingly rooted in America, the survey confirms. Fewer than one-third are immigrants or children of immigrants, a percentage similar to that of Italian Americans, but far less than the numbers for newer arrivals such as Hispanic, Asian or Arab Americans.
Moreover, Jews have achieved an extraordinary measure of success. Six out of 10 Jewish adults have a college degree, more than any group except Asians.
More than 41 percent report a household income of $75,000 or more, far above any other group surveyed. Fewer Jews than members of any other group reported worrying about losing their jobs or going without a meal. Far more reported investing in the stock market and shopping via the Internet.
And yet Jews still view themselves as a minority, and that self-image clearly shapes their view of their world.
Close to 90 percent say their ethnic heritage is "very" or "somewhat" important to them, comparable to Blacks, Hispanics or Arab Americans but far beyond Italian Americans. And nearly 60 percent report having experienced discrimination because of their ethnic heritage, more than any other group except Blacks.
Fully half of Jews report having a "strong emotional tie" to their "country of ethnic heritage" -- less than Hispanics, at 62 percent, or Arab Americans, at 56 percent, but much more than Asian Americans, at 43 percent, or Italian Americans, at 37.5 percent.
What is particularly striking is that unlike the other groups, the country to which Jews are attached is not one their grandparents came from, but Israel, one which for the most part they have only read of in newspapers or learned about in religious school.
The researchers pointed to the very distinctiveness of the Jews as an identifiable community, with its own patterns of behavior and values, as the most striking finding of the poll of Jews.
"Jews have retained their own identity," said John Zogby, president of Zogby International.
"I'm not an expert in Judaism, and as an Arab American I wouldn't claim to be, but the findings suggest that there's plenty within the context of Judaism as a spiritual force that generates a commitment to community spirit and communal values."
Zogby, who is of Lebanese Christian descent, is best known as a New York-based Republican pollster. He is the brother of Arab American lobbyist James Zogby.
"You have to look at what appear to be subtleties," added Belio Martinez Jr., Zogby's director of international marketing and research. "When you look at issues of persecution, or at their involvement in international affairs, it's clear that they really don't view themselves as part of the traditional Anglo American majority culture."
That minority self-image may help explain why Jews remain more liberal than any of their neighbors, despite their material success and the fading of the immigrant experience.
Both Zogby and Martinez cited that liberalism as the most important finding in the Jewish survey.
"They're more conservative than they were in the 1920s and 1930s," said Zogby, "but within the larger context, they remain more liberal than others."
This liberalism shows up in a variety of contexts: party identification, voting patterns and positions on issues.
Nowhere, though, is it clearer than in the simple fact that Jews are more likely to identify themselves as liberals than any other group. Some 49 percent of Jews called themselves "liberal" or "very liberal," compared to 42 percent of Blacks and about one-third of every other group.
By contrast, about 19 percent of Jews called themselves "conservative" or "very conservative," compared to 25 percent of Blacks and about one-third of every other group.
The lopsided liberalism is reflected in party identification: About two-thirds of Jews are registered as Democrats and 15 percent as Republicans. That makes Jews less partisan than only Blacks, who are 78 percent Democratic and 6.5 percent Republican.
Among Hispanics, 57 percent are registered Democratic and 21 percent Republican. Italian and Arab Americans, like the nation as a whole, are about 37 percent Democrat and 34 percent Republican. All the groups' presidential votes in 1996 closely matched their party registration.
The lopsided liberalism of the Jews shows up in their responses to issues on the public agenda, particularly on abortion.
Jews are overwhelmingly pro-choice, with 61 percent saying the decision should always be left to the mother. Among other groups, the figure ranged from 40 percent of Blacks and Asian Americans to 29 percent among Italian and Arab Americans and 24 percent of Hispanics who were fully pro-choice.
Similarly, fewer than 50 percent of Jews believe in notifying parents when a minor seeks an abortion, compared with nearly 80 percent in every other group.
Jews are also the most supportive of letting the federal government set education policy, the most supportive of campaign donation limits and the least supportive of increasing the military budget. In general, Jews showed a greater faith in the power of the federal government to do good than any other group.
That good will does not spill over to the United Nations, which received lower marks from Jews than from any other group surveyed.
Given a choice between "effective peacekeeping/human rights agency" and "bloated bureaucracy that weakens U.S. sovereignty," most groups tilted about three-to-one toward "effective peacekeeping." Only 55.8 percent of Jews chose "effective peacekeeping," while 18.2 percent chose neither.
For Zogby, the specific characteristics marking American Jews -- attachment to Israel, distinctive political values, mistrust of the United Nations -- all point to the enduring influence of Judaism on the Jews' inner lives.
Others might dispute that conclusion. But one thing is certain -- wherever it comes from, they're not getting it in synagogue.
Jews attend worship services less regularly than any other group surveyed. That, in fact, was one of the most striking differences the survey found between Jews and the others.
Just under one-quarter of the Jews polled said they attend services at least once a week, while more than half said they attend on "special occasions only."
In every other group those numbers were precisely reversed, with about half saying they attend services at least weekly and 25 to 30 percent saying they attend only on special occasions. (Between 9 and 20 percent of each group said they "never" attend services, with Asian Americans scoring highest.)
At the same time, Jews had the highest proportion -- 5.2 percent -- who attend services daily, suggesting the continuing influence of Orthodoxy. Combined with 18 percent who attend weekly and more than 6 percent who attend "once or twice a month,'' a total of nearly 30 percent attend synagogue with some regularity. This matches other surveys showing that 25 to 30 percent of American Jews maintain a deep, ongoing involvement in communal Jewish practice.
What keeps the others identifiably Jewish? The Zogby Culture Poll doesn't say. All it does is state the facts: One way or another, something is keeping them Jewish.