Blog 7: The Great Jewish Divide: Competing Voices and Distinct Voting Patterns
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
Originally posted on Jan 5, 2012
This blog entry is part of a series of articles and commentaries prepared by Steven Windmueller regarding the 2012 elections and the Jewish vote.
There are “multiple Americas”, as identified by different regional characteristics, social and cultural values, and political interests. The April (2011) edition of The Atlantic contains a map “showing how changing median incomes and demographics have divided the United States into 12 distinct geographic areas”.
This same notion holds for American Jewry; today, we find a distinctive set of political patterns amongst Jews, leading to voting behaviors that represent specific viewpoints and in some cases representing differing regional, economic and social priorities. Despite the commonly held view of “the Jewish vote”, one finds a series of Jewish voting constituencies. As with other groups, Jews take on the characteristics reflective of the social institutions with which they are aligned. This phenamenon applies to the political arena, as well.
Five such “groups” are identified below:
Southern and Mid-Western Jews who have longstanding family ties to these regions and their respective home communities often maintain distinctive political connections and loyalties, in many cases reflecting the social behaviors and characteristics of their neighbors.
Immigrant Jewish Communities often take on specific political sentiments. New Americans, arriving from Iran or the Former Soviet Union or other societies that exhibited hostility toward Israel in particular and the West in general, frequently identify with the foreign policy principles of the Republican Party, namely a strong military and defense posture.
Traditional Religious Jews emulate the political patterns of the Christian evangelical community. Similar to their counterparts within the Christian fundamentalist camp, the political activism of religiously aligned Jews has emerged and taken form over the course of the past 25 years.
“Red-Diaper Baby” Voters are identified with socialist causes and left-wing political ideas. Emulating the political passions of their grandparents’ generation, this block of voters retains links to the social mores of a distinctive group of American activists and voters.
“Urban Jewish Elites” represents an element of secular Jews who identify with an array of liberal organizations and often high-profile social causes. Identified with and supportive of Democratic Party candidates, this cohort has been a key force in defining and shaping American progressive ideas. Joining with like-minded Americans, this group has generated financial and voter support for liberal candidates in major urban areas.
There are no doubt other unique blocks of Jewish voters who not only reflect elements of the general American culture but also capture specific interests and priorities of the Jewish community. The notion of a “monolithic” Jewish vote has really never existed, rather one finds that there are particular characteristics that represent distinctions within any voting segment.
As we know with all voter studies, groups are clustered around particular interests. “Israel” is certainly seen as one of the defining elements in identifying American Jews. In reality, a number of factors describe the particular “type” of Jewish voter. As with most segments of the voting public, such characteristics as candidate appeal, ideological affinity, concruence around key policy issues, and party loyalty, among other considerations, need to be taken into account when “measuring” the political behavior of Jews.
Steven F. Windmueller, Ph.D.
Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Los Angeles Campus