Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World (Jewish Lights, 2006), pp. 100-101.
Understanding Jewish Political Behavior (100-101) Over the past fifty years, American Jews have consistently exhibited liberal ideas and liberal voting patterns. In so doing, Jews defy the tendency for groups to vote their economic interests. In general, the higher the socioeconomic class, the more likely a group will exhibit conservative attitudes and voting patterns. The more economically disadvantaged a group, the more likely that group will manifest liberal attitudes and voting patterns. Nevertheless, Jews have remained overwhelmingly committed to the Democratic Party ever since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. In the last four presidential elections (1992: Clinton-Bush; 1996: Clinton-Dole; 2000: Bush-Gore; 2004: Bush-Kerry), Jews cast 80 percent, 78 percent, 79 percent, and 75 percent of their votes for the Democratic ticket, respectively. In Congressional and state-wide elections, Jews tend to vote two to three times more often for Democratic candidates than for Republicans. This voting pattern led the noted American Jewish political commentator Milton Himmelfarb to observe that “the Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” The Jewish Public Opinion Survey, conducted in 2000, found that 49 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats, compared to only 10 percent who identified as Republicans. Thirty-five percent of Jews called themselves “liberal,” compared with only 8 percent who called themselves “conservative.” This breakdown has been consistent over the past several decades. When comparing the attitudes of Jews to those of comparable white, college-educated, urban samples, Jews remain an anomaly. The non-Jewish groups are considerably more conservative than comparable groups of Jews. Among the issues that most distinguish Jews from their non-Jewish counterparts are their support for abortion rights, gay rights, and separation of church and state and their sympathy for the economically disadvantaged. Jews also stand apart from their non-Jewish counterparts on issues of foreign affairs. When asked whether the United States should send troops to a foreign country to intervene on behalf of a persecuted minority, Jews were 2–1 in favor of intervention compared to non-Jewish Americans, who were 2–1 against it. It is far easier to quantify attitudes than it is to explain them. Neither high income nor advanced education is sufficient to explain Jewish distinctiveness in their political tendencies because Jews at every level stand apart from non-Jewish Americans who mirror their income and educational level. A much more compelling explanation goes back to Sinai and historical consciousness. Even as American Jews become less religiously observant, less knowledgeable about Jewish teachings, and increasingly secular in their outlook, their engagement in American public affairs has been shaped by the Jewish historical experience. It is the Jewish communal ethos, honed as much by historical experience as through knowledge of sacred texts, extended to the realm of public affairs.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. Some commentators have observed that Jews are moving to the political right. What might be motivating such a tendency?

2. Do you believe that one political persuasion or another (e.g. liberal, conservative, progressive, etc.) is more closely aligned with Jewish teaching than another?

3. Why would Jews be more inclined to send American troops to protect a persecuted minority in a foreign country? Doesn't this conflict with the surveys that show that Jews are far less supportive of military options than the rest of the population?

Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)