October 9, 2013
Jewish Party Identification: Was the Republican Wave Imaginary, Or Has the Trend Reversed?
This is hardly the most important news from the recent Pew study of the American Jewish community. But still, updating the Jewish Party Identification page of our J-Meter isn't something that we get to do every day. Last time we checked, and this was a long time ago, our conclusion – based on many polls, including the post-2012 election polls – was as follows:
Jewish Republicans form more than a quarter, but less than a third, of the pie. Jewish Democrats are the vast majority, but still account for less than 70% of the vote. If one searches for a long-term trend, one could conclude that the trend presented by PEW - according to which the GOP is gaining among Jews in recent years - might be a better description than the one derived from the more chaotic graph of other polls.
Do we still believe that's the case? Let's take a look at what the new Pew study – a much more nuanced examination of US Jewry than regular polls – tells us about Jewish party identification:
U.S. Jews are a largely Democratic, politically liberal group. Overall, seven-in-ten Jews (including 68% of Jews by religion and 78% of Jews of no religion) identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, while just 22% identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.
This is the picture of the Jewish population as a whole, but it gets a little more complicated when one discerns between the two main groups of Jews that the Pew study (and the Brandeis study, which was published last week as well) mention: Jews By Religion and Jews Not By Religion. Note that the numbers also reflect both those who identify with a party and those who are "leaning" toward the parties – that's why we don't have "independents" in this analysis.
Jews by religion are more than twice as likely as members of most other religious traditions to describe themselves as politically liberal. And black Protestants are the only religious group with a larger share than Jews by religion that identifies with or leans toward the Democratic Party. For their part, Jews of no religion are even more politically liberal and Democratic-leaning than is the overall religiously unaffiliated population, which itself is among the most strongly liberal and Democratic groups in the population.
A table will make it a little clearer:
What can we learn from this? A number of things:
This poll tends to portray Jews as leaning Democratic even more than previous polls – the J Street poll and the AJC poll of 2012 put the percentage of Democratic leaning Jews at 67% and 68% respectively (J Street also had 11% of Independents). So either Jews have become more Democratic in the past year, or the polls, by having different criteria for interviewing Jews, present slightly different groups of people.
By looking at the different groups of Jews within the poll we might find a clue to explaining the gaps between the 2012 surveys and the 2013 study. The 2012 numbers look suspiciously similar to the numbers attributed to Jews by Religion in the Pew study. Is it possible that previous groups consisted of more Jews by Religion than JNBR?
The answer is not a "yes" and not a "no".
The 2012 AJC survey, for example, included "a sample of U.S. adults (18 and older) who self-identify as Jewish by religion or background (meaning no religion but considers self Jewish)". To be exact, it included "833 cases [of] Jewish by religion, 241 Jewish via followup question [Consider self] - of whom, 103 reported partially or half Jewish". So it included a fair number of JNBRs, but still smaller than the one included in the Pew study. The way JNBRs were identified and selected in these two polls was also different, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that the AJC survey is a survey of a group that is a little more conservative than the Pew group.
Still, the most difficult question the new Pew survey presents on this matter can be addressed to the writers of the conclusions published by Pew itself last year, based on political polling. In September of 2012, Pew presented an analysis according to which "Jewish voters, who comprise about 2% of registered voters, also have been strong supporters of the Democratic Party. However, the size of the Democratic Party advantage has diminished from 52 points in 2008 to 38 points today" (we were somewhat skeptical about the Pew conclusions). It was data by Pew that ignited a wave of headlines such as "why Jews are deserting Obama and the Democrats", "Oy Vey, Obama", "seeing ripple in Jewish vote", "study reignites debate over Jewish vote" and the likes.
Yet if we add the new Pew data to the old Pew data, the graph changes its course: from 2006 to 2013 Jewish support for the two parties goes up and down, with no clear trend to talk about.
And here is a graph – also all Pew based – that includes the Jewish Presidential vote from 2000 to 2012, and party identification from 2006-2013:
So what does all this mean? It means that we don't exactly know what's going on, but there are signs that the Jewish Republican wave was either imaginary or is now ending... We don't exactly know if this is true for methodological reasons – even all the polls by Pew aren't identical in nature, and the changes we see might be a result of that fact and not the result of changes in Jewish political identification. We also don't know because we only have this one poll from 2013, and we need more of these to be able to say with confidence that a trend was reversed- that is, that a Jewish population that was slightly trending toward the Republican party for a few years is going back to the numbers of a decade ago. But you can see in the other polls from other sources we gathered from 2012 polls, that to suggest that there is a rise in Jewish Democratic identification is at least as valid as it was to suggest the opposite two years ago.