A majority of American Jews are welcoming of immigrants, favorably disposed towards American Muslims, support legalizing same-sex marriage, favor legal abortions and oppose overturning the recent health care law, according to a Jewish Values Survey released Tuesday.
It is perhaps no wonder then that the campaigns of this year’s Republican presidential candidates have had little resonance with most American Jews.
“This is a campaign year in which Jews are reminded how right-wing the Republican Party has become because of the Christian conservative core of the party,” said Kenneth Wald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. “This presidential campaign has reinforced the problems the Republicans are having with Jews. … They have given a lot of attention to the wrong positions on core issues.”
Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the survey funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, said simply: “To the extent that the Republican Party emphasizes culture war issues, it is a losing proposition to attracting Jewish votes.”
A total of 1,004 self-identified Jews age 18 and older participated in the online survey between Feb. 23 and March 5. There is a sampling error of 5 percent.
Jones said he believes this was the first major study of its size, comprehensiveness and scope conducted by a non-Jewish group.
“It confirmed how central social justice and a sense of commitment to social equality is to American Jewish values and politics,” he said.
And it demonstrated American Jews’ strong support for environmentalism, with 69 percent saying they supported tougher laws and regulations to protect the environment, even if it meant raising prices or cutting jobs.
Younger People Less Affiliated
Interestingly, there were stark political differences: only 26 percent of Republican Jews said they would support tougher rules compared to 68 percent of Jewish independents and 81 percent of Jewish Democrats.
The survey was consistent with other surveys regarding the denominational breakdown of the American Jewish community — 35 percent Reform, 26 percent Conservative, 8 percent Orthodox, 1 percent Reconstructionist and 29 percent who said they were “Just Jewish.”
Regarding the latter category, Jones said this survey had findings similar to those in the general American population – younger Americans are “likely to be less religiously affiliated.”
Because there were only 42 Orthodox Jews surveyed, Jones said their number was too small to be reported on separately.
“The rule of thumb is that you do not report on cases of less than 100,” he said. “But you can infer from the data that the Orthodox are more likely to be Republican.”
The economy is the main issue for Jewish registered voters this election year (51 percent), with all other issues trailing well behind. Fifteen percent cited the growing gap between rich and poor, 10 percent cited health care, 7 percent the federal deficit and only 4 percent listed Israel.
“What this suggests is that there is little space between Republicans and Democrats on the core issues [involving Israel],” Wald said. “The Republicans talk of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but on the core issues the distance [between them] is small.”
This finding is similar to other surveys that show that Americans are “pro-Israel, but Israel is not a matter of high political salience and is not a partisan issue unless there are differences between the parties — and most American Jews do not see a separation,” Wald observed.
Among the surprising findings was that fully 87 percent of Jews said the experience of the Holocaust was somewhat or very important in informing their political beliefs and activities. Wald said he was “surprised by the sheer magnitude” of that number. Some 85 percent said they were influenced also by the opportunities for economic success in America, 70 percent cited the immigrant experience and 66 percent cited the fact they are a religious minority here.
An equal number of American Jews — 36 percent — report being satisfied as being dissatisfied with the Obama administration, but only 3 percent said they are excited about it.
At the same time, 61 percent said they have very a favorable or mostly favorable view of President Barack Obama and 62 percent said they would like to see him re-elected — more than twice the number who support a Republican candidate (30 percent). The latter group supports Mitt Romney by a wide margin over his closest challenger — 58 percent to 15 percent for Rick Santorum.
Wald said the findings confirm that Jews are “heavily oriented to the Democrats,” which he said is important this year “given all the anti-Obama talk.”
Jones agreed, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation around whether there has been spillage in the Jewish community towards the Republican Party, and our survey did not show significant movement.”
The survey found that Jewish support for the way Obama has handled his presidency is at 58 percent, significantly higher than among the general population (44 percent) and nearly identical to what it had been at a comparable point in the 2008 campaign. Only 7 percent of Jewish voters who supported Obama in 2008 said they would prefer to see a Republican defeat him, and those without a college degree are less likely to support him (51 percent) than those with a college degree (68 percent).
Jewish voters’ preferences regarding the 2012 congressional election closely mirrors their presidential preferences.
Most Back Obamacare
Regarding health care reform, fully 58 percent of American Jews oppose overturning Obama’s health care bill, which is now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Here again, there is a striking difference between Republican Jews — 84 percent want to overturn the law — and Jewish Democrats, 78 percent of whom support it. Jewish independents are more divided, with 53 percent supporting it.
Some 59 percent of American Jews said religion is at least somewhat important in their lives, with Conservative Jews (82 percent) more likely than Reform (65 percent) Jews to believe that way. And self-identified political conservatives (67 percent) and moderates (68 percent) are more likely than liberals (47 percent) to express that belief, as are more women (66 percent) than men (50 percent).
Regarding questions about religion, younger Jews are about twice as likely as older Jews to say they do not believe in God (27 percent to 13 percent). Some 35 percent of American Jews report being a member of a local synagogue; less than half of Conservative and Reform Jews report belonging to a synagogue (49 percent and 39 percent respectively). Only 5 percent of those who say they are “Just Jewish” report belonging to a synagogue, and those without a college degree are less likely than those with post-graduate degrees to belong to a synagogue (27 percent versus 44 percent).
Nearly all Jews (96 percent) believe synagogues should be involved in acts of charity, and 76 percent believe they should be engaged in public policy advocacy to address social problems. However, 71 percent say synagogues should not be involved in supporting political campaigns or candidates.
When asked to name the most important Jewish holiday, 43 percent named Yom Kippur, 25 percent named Passover, and Chanukah and Rosh HaShanah were each cited by 10 percent of respondents. At the same time, two-thirds of Jews said they planned to attend a seder this year. Interestingly, although many of those who identify as “Just Jewish” ranked Passover as the most important holiday to them, only one-third said they planned to attend a seder this year.
Regarding foreign policy, 54 percent of American Jews said relations between Israel and the U.S. are little changed from the past, but 37 percent said they are worse. And Jews who belong to a synagogue are more likely than non-synagogue members to believe relations are worse (47 percent versus 31 percent respectively). Older Jews are more likely than younger Jews to have that perception (44 percent to 27 percent), as are American Jews who have visited Israel (47 percent to 32 percent).
American Jews are evenly divided about Obama’s handling of the Arab-Israel conflict, while one-third said they are not sure of their opinion on this matter.
Jews who are not members of synagogues are less likely than synagogue members to say they disagree with Obama’s policies (21 percent to 39 percent respectively). But although 11 percent of Jewish Democrats agree with the president’s policies, 69 percent of Jewish Republicans disagree.
Regarding a Palestinian state, 53 percent of American Jews would support it, while 42 percent oppose it. More men (61 percent) than women (46 percent) would support it, as would more older Jews (57 percent) than younger Jews (39 percent).
When asked whether certain issues represent a major problem for Israel, about 90 percent listed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and 83 percent listed Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, 53 percent listed the control of religious life by the fervently Orthodox in Israel.
Diplomacy Vs. Military In Iran
By more than 2-to-1, American Jews favor diplomacy over the military option to ensure peace. But 59 percent of American Jews said the U.S. should take military action to prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, compared with 37 percent who disagreed. Military action was supported by 78 percent of Jewish Republicans and 52 of Jewish Democrats, 63 percent of Reform Jews, 61 percent of Conservative Jews and 52 percent of “Just Jews.”
On other issues, 93 percent of American Jews support legal abortions in all or most cases. And some 81 percent of American Jews support allowing same-sex couples to marry legally.
Nearly two-thirds believe the government should do more to close the gap between rich and poor, and 81 percent would increase the tax rate on Americans who earn more than $1 million a year.
Although 52 percent said they would not be willing to pay more taxes to fund federal programs to help the poor, support for tax increases is higher among Jews with higher educational attainment and household incomes of $125,000 a year or more.