September 18, 2019

The best representative of American Jewish values (guess who?)

The new Jewish Values Survey landed on my desk last night. It was while I was busy with other things, so I have the disadvantage – but also the advantage – of writing about it after many others had already reported some of the main findings of this survey. I’ll repeat some of these findings, as not all of them were reported in all publications:

  • American Jews still support President Obama in great numbers (no surprise here).

  • American Jews’ main concern is the economy (again, no surprise).

  • Israel is listed pretty low on their list of priorities (4%, no surprise, but a bit lower than I’d thought).

  • Jews support Obama more than most other American groups (no change, no surprise).

  • Republican Jews would go for Romney (at this stage, any other choice would seem pretty dumb, wouldn’t it?)

  • Jews are generally liberal. They want taxes, health care laws, abortion (no news here).

  • Their least favorable groups are “The Christian Right” and “The Tea Party” (that’s kind of interesting).

  • While Israel is not the most important item on Jewish Americans’ list, a majority of them support military action against Iran (if sanctions fail).

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    In short, it is an interesting survey, albeit with no great news to report. And there are some problems with it: The percentage of Orthodox interviewed was low (4%), the percentage of “Just Jewish” very high. While weighting the numbers can compensate for such things, one should still take into account the fact that almost half of the Jews that were interviewed for this survey are non-affiliated, namely, do not belong to the “core” Jewish community.

    And here’s another possible problem: only 63% of the interviewed Jews said they voted for President Obama in 2008 (24% said McCain). As we know the percentage of Jewish voting for Obama was higher (not 78% as is commonly assumed – it was actually around 74-75%) there are two possible options here: Either the Jews interviewed for this poll do not represent the real pool of Jewish voters, or Jewish voters today feel embarrassed to say that they voted for Obama. But why would they be embarrassed if they still want Obama to get reelected?

    Most news reports about this survey focused on Obama‘s popularity with Jewish voters. The New York Times reported:

    “We show no slippage in Jewish support for President Obama,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, an independent research group based in Washington D.C., which conducted the poll of 1,004 Jewish adults from Feb. 23 to March 5. The margin of error is plus or minus five percentage points. Support for Mr. Obama is still higher among Jews than among the general electorate, with 62 percent of Jewish voters saying they would like to see him elected, and 30 percent saying they preferred the Republican candidate. (That is almost identical to a Gallup poll of American Jewish registered voters taken in June 2008.)

    That is strange assertion on many counts:

    1. How can one “see no slippage” when just 62% want to see Obama reelected, compared to the 74% who voted for him in 2008?

    2. Why would one want to compare this survey to the numbers from June of 2008? Yes, it is still early in the race, but Obama is not in the same position he was back them – he is not a novice, he is not a riddle, he is not just ending a campaign against Hillary Clinton in which at least half the Jewish voters were rooting for Clinton. He is the President, and comparing him to the June 2008 Obama seems to me a bit strange.

    So what am I saying?

    That Obama is obviously going to get the votes of most Jews – no one in his right mind ever thought otherwise. That Romney has a good chance of performing a little, but not much, better than McCain (2008), Bush (2000, 2004) and most other recent Republican candidates; this might not be a significant achievement, or a shift that will determine election outcomes, but it can give Republicans some sense of satisfaction. That Israel is not the main topic with which to sway Jewish voters – however, and this is important, it still might be important for Jewish philanthropists and leaders and organizations. That Jewish voters are very liberal, but still have this tendency to be somewhat hawkish on Israel (hence, support for attacking Iran, not a common view for ultra-liberals). That American Judaism today is a lot about social values (Tikkun Olam, welcoming the stranger, caring for the widow) and social activity (76% want their synagogue to engage in public policy advocacy to address social problems).

    And one surprise: Most American Jews (61%) believe PM Netanyahu to “well represent Jewish values”. Imagine that. That’s probably because of his great “commitment to social equality”, the quality associated with Jewish identity more than all others (46%). In other words: if you’re looking for consistency in this survey – in all surveys of Jews – you might lose your way.

    More on this topic:

  • So Israelis think that US Jewish support is “essential’’ – so what?

  • Is the US too supportive of Israel? That depends on one’s political affiliation

  • Carefully parsing Obama’s words to AIPAC: What exactly did he promise?