In J Street polls, GOP does not gain Jewish voters

A new survey from J Street gives us an opportunity to take another look at Jewish party identification. In previous installations of our Jewish Party Identification feature, we showed a trend line of gradually growing support for the GOP (since 2000), based on polls by the AJC annual surveys of Jewish opinion, by Gallup, and by Pew.  But this trend line is nowhere to be found when we look at the polls conducted by J Street in the last five years. But before anyone jumps to any conclusion about how J Street polls more Jews who agree with its (left leaning) agenda – several words of caution are due.

First: Party ID fluctuates among all constituencies and in many polls. In Pew surveys of party ID among all Americans the new plus for Democrats was +9 in 2014, +10 in 2012, +7 in 2010, and +16 in 2008. That is to say: expecting complete consistency in these measurements would not be wise.  

Moreover, J Street publishes a much more detailed variety of possible answers to the Jewish Party Identification question. Hence, comparing it to Gallup and Pew polls is comparing apples and oranges. It is interesting to look at both – and even to look at both at the same time – but conclusions should be drawn carefully.

In many Gallup and Pew polls (regular polls – I will talk later about the 2013 Pew poll that deserves special attention), Jews are divided into two categories, and thus we get a simple trend line of Dem Jews and GOP Jews. J Street and its pollster, Jim Gerstein, publish six categories: strong Dem, weak Dem, Independent-lean-Dem, Independent, Independent-lean-GOP, weak GOP, strong GOP. Condensing these categories is still possible. We can lump together all Dem categories and lump together all GOP categories (strong, weak, lean) – but we still have a third category that we have to take into account: the Independent with no leanings.

In their latest survey, the political division of Jews by J Street was as follows.

Strong Democrat 34%

Weak Democrat 21%

Independent-lean Democrat 11%

Independent 10%

Independent-lean Republican 6%

Weak Republican 10%

Strong Republican 8%

If we look at the last five JS polls, the picture of the division – Democratic, GOP, Independent – looks like this: As you can see, the lines are fairly flat. No trend of increase in GOP support is detectible.

If we compare the polls by J Street to regular polls by Gallup and Pew, the difference between them becomes clearer. As I said, we can't compare the polls without remembering that JS include about 10% of Independents that presumably take away from the other two blocs of voters. Nevertheless, JS has in almost all their polls more Democratic leaning Jews than both Gallup and Pew. Take a look:

J Street polls also have fewer GOP leaning Jews in their polls than almost all Gallup and Pew polls. And the trend line for GOP Jews goes downward – the opposite of trend lines presented by both Gallup and Pew in recent years (Pew here, Gallup here):

There is one poll, though, that complicates things a little further, and that is the Pew report on the state of American Jewry (2013). That report is based on a much better targeted survey of Jews (it’s the only poll since 2000 that comprehensively sampled Jews), and would be considered a gold standard against which to weigh all other polls of Jews from recent years. It also has another advantage: in that survey, Pew included three blocs in its report: Democratic voters, Republican voters and Independents (plus “others”, “no preference”, and “no lean”).

Here's what happens when we compare the 2013 Pew report on Jews (note that the colors are different – in this graph Pew gets to be purple) and the 2015 Pew comprehensive report on Party Identification to the 2012 and 2014 J street surveys (there was no 2013 J Street survey): J Street has less Democratic voters and more Republican voters than the Pew 2013 report. It has more democratic voters and less Republican voters than the Pew 2015 report.

Here are a few notes in which I try to deal with or explain the differences between surveys and survey outlets.

1. As I said early on, Party Identification polls fluctuate – so we should not expect uniformity. J Street polls tend to have more Democratic voters, but not in all cases and not in great numbers.  

2. Pew and Gallup show a slight gradual change in Jewish Party ID toward a more hawkish vote – J Street currently does not.

3. In Gallup polls Jews are generally more hawkish than they are in Pew and JS polls. This might have a simple reason: Not every pollster uses the same definition of Jews. In fact, as we noted a while ago, comparing Gallup's numbers and Pew's numbers is problematic because Gallup “only focused on people who identified as Jews by religion (who were asked “what is your religion?” and answered with “Jewish”), whereas Pew also included “Jews not by religion” (people who answered a follow up question about connection to Judaism positively)”. This means that the Gallup survey, by definition, includes less Democratic Jews compared to Pew. That is, because 68% of Jews by religion are Democrats, compared to 78% of Jews of no religion. If one excludes Jews of no religion, one excludes a group that is more Democratic. J Street defines Jews similarly to Pew. That is to say – it includes Jews of no religion (“Respondents were screened at the beginning of the survey when they were first asked for their religion and then, if they did not identify themselves as Jewish by religion, they were asked again if they considered themselves Jewish”). So the Pew and JS group of Jews are supposed to lean more Democratic than the Gallup group.

4. Some differences between the surveys can be attributed to the way “leaners” are split. In most surveys Gallup and Pew have two blocs – GOP leaning and Democratic leaning Jews. This means that all Independents are split between the two blocs. This means that someone has to calculate the split. And such calculation – if done differently – can lead to different results. For example: if one calculates, for whatever reason, that most of the Independents will eventually vote Republican – that would make the Dem-GOP Jewish gap narrower.

Here's the JS GOP trend-line for Jews – showing a slight decline from 2008 to 2015.

Here's the updated upward GOP Jewish trend-line from 2008 of all polls – including JS polls.


Here's the data we used: * AJC annual surveys of Jewish opinion; ** Gallup; *** Jewish Distinctiveness in America, Tom W. Smith. T, 2005; **** Pew; ***** JS; ****** PEW (Portrait of Jewish Americans)

GOP Dem Ind Not Sure Year
24 66 10   2015*****
29 61     2014**
21 68 11   2014*****
30 65     2013****
15 52 32   2013*
22 70     2013******
28 64     2013**
26 67 8   2012*****
27 66     2012**
19 52 26 2 2012*
27 64     2011**
20 70 10   2011*****
16 45 38 2 2011 *
17 48 34 1 2010 *
26 66 9   2010*****
15 50 32 2 2010 *
27 65     2010**
33 60     2010 ****
24 70 7   2009*****
24 69     2009**
16 53 30 1 2009 *
25 67 8   2008*****
22 71     2008**
17 56 25 2 2008 *
20 72     2008****
26 68     **** 2006
16 54 29 1 2005 *
16 54 29 2 2004 *
16 50 34   2002- 2004 **
17 50 33   2001-2002**
9 59 30 2 2000 *
  52     1996 *
  51.7     1991-2002 ***
18 50 32   1992-2001**
  53.9     1981-90 ***
  57.8     1972-80 ***