Jewish Politics and Values – A Statistical Portrait of American Jews into the 21st Century

Based on the 2007 article:  A Statistical Portrait of American Jews into the 21st Century by Professor Allan Mazur

A portrait of American Jews can be drawn from the cumulative General Social Surveys (GSS), which since 1972 has annually or biennially interviewed random samples of about 1,500 adults, producing an aggregate Jewish sample of over 1,000 respondents. Most of the following analysis compares Jews with non-Jews of similar background. Called “Controls,” they are white, college educated, and living in one of the nation’s large urban areas of the “blue states” in the nation’s East and West. Requiring Controls to have a college degree is conservative because only half of Jews have that level of education. Therefore, where appropriate, comparisons are restricted to college educated Jews. Jews comprise 2% of the population, Controls another 6%. A third comparison group, called “Others,” includes the remaining 92% of Americans.

On balance, Jews are an unusually Democratic and politically liberal group. As in the case of religion, their views closely parallel the politics of elite universities*

Conventional political wisdom holds that Jews vote Democratic. Table 5-1, showing party affiliation as reported to the General Social Surveys (GSS), shows that 54% of Jews but only 29% of Controls are Democrats. This 25% difference is larger even than the difference between Jews and Others (54% – 39% = 15%). The skew toward the Democrats, and away from the Republicans, is not explained by education, income, or residence in the large cities of blue states. It has historical roots in the affection Jews felt during World War II for Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as the Democrats’ more liberal attitude toward minorities during much of the 20th century. (In each row, numbers that are very close are boldfaced.)


Asked to rate their political views as liberal, moderate, or conservative, Jews are more liberal, and less conservative, than Controls or Others (Table 5-2). This too has historical roots, extending back to the Liberalism (versus monarchy) of 19th century Europe, and perhaps is not as pronounced now as it was in the early or middle 20th century. The percent of Jews identifying themselves as liberal does not decrease as family income increases (not shown).


The GSS addressed the issue of free speech by asking respondents if they thought various types of advocates should be allowed to speak publicly in their community. Controls were slightly more permissive than Jews across the range of advocates, and both groups were more permissive than Others (Table 5-3). College educated Jews were as permissive as Controls (not shown).


Several questions assessed prejudice toward particular citizens: blacks, women, or homosexuals. Representative examples are summarized in Table 5-4. There is little difference between Jews and Controls. Both groups show less prejudice than Others.


Additional questions probed left-right issues that do not target particular citizens. Jews are more liberal than Controls on abortion, legalized marijuana, and disapproving of wiretapping (Table 5-5). Differences on gun permits, the death penalty, and reduction of income inequality are near the margin of polling error and too small to be meaningful. Others are less liberal than Jews and Controls on abortion, legalized marijuana, and requiring gun permits. Not surprisingly, Others are more favorable than Jews or Controls toward government reducing income inequality.


To assess priorities for government spending, GSS respondents were given a list of fifteen problem areas and asked if government spent too much, too little, or about the right amount on each area. There was fair agreement in priorities across groups. Table 5-6 shows the largest differences that do occur. Overall, Jews favor more spending than Controls (and Others), but their priorities are similar. Others give relatively high priority to Social Security and relatively low priority to mass transit.


Assessing confidence in American institutions, the GSS asked respondents if they had a great deal of confidence in the people running these institutions, only some, or hardly any. Again, there was considerable agreement across groups. Table 5-7 shows the largest differences that do occur. Jews have slightly less confidence in virtually all institutions than Controls do. Jews and Controls differentiate among institutions more than Others do, reporting a high confidence in science, a middling amount in education, but little confidence in the military or clergy. Others show less differentiation in judging one institution against another.


  • The original article was published in 2007, thus recent shifts in public opinion (such as legalizing the use of marijuana, and legalizing same-sex marriages, in many states are not reflected in the article. 


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Author: Gideon