US Jews are living in separate Americas with totally different priorities

As the divisions in society stateside widen, wealthy, assimilated Jews have diverging political priorities from struggling religious ones


Left-wing activist argues with Ultra orthodox Jew during a demonstration against the inclusion of right-wing activist Aryeh King to the municipality Coalition as Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat (unseen) speaks at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly (GA), an annual conference of thousands of participants from North America, held in Jerusalem on November 12, 2013. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ùîàì ùìè ôòéìé ùîàì àøéä ÷éðâ îøö òáåãä äôâðä çøãé çéìåðé

July 06, 2023 11:33

The Jewish Electorate Institute has just polled Jewish Americans’ political attitudes. As I described last week, the broad outlines are not so much hardened as ossified. Overall, Jewish Americans are the most liberal group in American society.

They are second only to African Americans when it comes to voting Democratic.

The JEI poll confirms this, but it also detects some counter-trends that will, in time, alter the picture.

Last November, Pew Research, the gold standard of political pollsters, asked Americans to rank their most pressing issues.

The top five issues were the economy, the future of democracy, education, healthcare and energy policy.

Republicans and Democrats were broadly in agreement about the importance of these, though Republicans were much more concerned about the economy (92 per cent versus 6 per cent) and Democrats were more concerned about healthcare (79 per cent versus 42 per cent).

Only two of these five issues appear in the top five in the poll of Jewish Americans. They share the same top two issues with their fellow Americans: the future of democracy (37 per cent) and the economy (28 per cent).

After that, however, Jews are much less worried about necessities like education, healthcare and energy, and much more worried by culture war issues: abortion (26 per cent), climate change (25 per cent) and guns (24 per cent).

The similar percentages might reflect how these issues are bundled in Democratic candidates’ fundraising efforts and left-leaning media.

They certainly suggest that most Jews are comfortable enough not to have to worry about the collapse of the state education system, the cost of health insurance and healthcare, and the price of heating their homes.

They also suggest how deeply embedded most Jewish Americans are in affluent, blue-state America.

Among Orthodox Jews, the big worries are inflation and the economy (72 per cent) and immigration (24 per cent).

The figures among Reform Jews are 26 per cent and 11 per cent. And while 32 per cent of non-aligned and 29 per cent of Reform Jews worry about climate change, only 1 per cent of Orthodox Jews do. They’re living in different countries.

The really shocking number is that JEI’s Jews give Joe Biden a 67 per cent job approval rating, with 33 per cent disapproving, giving a balance of +34 per cent. Biden’s approval ratings among African Americans, Hispanics and whites have all fallen steadily since he took office.

In July 2022, Biden sank to 36 per cent approval nationwide, matching the record low set by Donald Trump. Only the Jews seem to like Biden.

Even stranger, only 72 per cent intend to vote for him in 2024. Orthodox Jews’ fondness for Donald Trump isn’t news, but if 22 per cent of America’s Jews would vote for him, it means Trump is gathering votes from the non-Orthodox. (Seven per cent couldn’t decide or couldn’t bear thinking about it.) Who are these secret Trumpists?

A few clues are dotted around the survey. The State of Israel came tenth on the list of 11 priorities.

Only 6 per cent of Jews think of Israel when they vote. This shouldn’t be taken as an indication that they don’t care; polling regularly shows affiliation rates of up to 90 per cent. Rather, it suggests that most Jews believe that their preferred party, usually the Democrats, has Israel’s back.

The 40-64 age group are more likely to support Trump than any other. They are also more likely to be “very or somewhat attached to Israel”. Generation X isn’t especially Orthodox: it’s the under-20s where the Orthodox birthrate is really showing.

Rather, these are non-Orthodox Jews who match Irving Kristol’s definition of a neoconservative: a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. This is the cohort that came of age with the Oslo Accords and watched the Palestinians blow them up.

Conservative Jews are the most attached to Israel (95 per cent, ahead of the Orthodox on 87 per cent).

Though they tend to float between Reform and Orthodox Jews on domestic issues, Conservatives are much closer to the Orthodox when it comes to following the news from Israel.

Nearly one in three Jewish Americans has heard little or nothing about the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial changes. But 81 per cent of Conservatives and 85 per cent of Orthodox Jews know “a lot’ or “some” about it.

As the divisions in US society widen, wealthy assimilated Jews live in a different country from struggling religious Jews. As the centre ground splits, the Conservative movement, once the giant of America’s Jewish denominations, is also splitting.

July 06, 2023 11:33

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