The Jewish Vote

Seeking the party of the outs.

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Reprinted with permission from an essay entitled "The Politics of Minority Consciousness: The Historical Voting Behavior of American Jews," which appeared in Jews in American Politics (Rowman & Littlefield), edited by L. Sandy Maisel and Ira N. Forman.

 A Brief Summary

• From the 1790s through the 1820s, the small Jewish community of the United States supported mostly Jeffersonian Democrats.

• In the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s the majority of a community that was swelling with German immigrants probably gave its allegiance to the Jacksonian Democrats.

• From the Civil War to the Free Silver campaign of 1896, many northern Jews switched their allegiance tothe new Republican Party, while southern Jews, and many of the newer immigrants (especially in New York), voted Democratic.

• During the period of massive Eastern European Jewish immigration, 1890 to 1930, the Jewish vote was split between the two major parties and the Socialists.

the jewish vote• Since 1930, the Jewish communityhas been a solidly Democratic constituency at the national and state levels of government.

Implications

This is a much more complicated picture than just saying that Jews have always been Democrats or that Jews have always been liberal. In fact, "Democrat" and "liberal" have not always been synonymous in American history.

So what do these voting patterns imply?

First, the same issues that non-Jewish voters responded to often swayed Jewish vot­ers. The sectional divisions that characterized American politics from the Civil War un­til the end of the century also divided Midwestern Jewish Republicans from southern Jewish Democrats. In the same way, the wealthy Jews of New York who had financed the Democratic Party in the age of Tilden and Cleveland were quick to abandon the national Democratic Party when it took up the standard of inflationary Free Silver, just as Wall Street abandoned the Democrats of 1896.

Nonetheless, the often distinctive partisan voting pattern of Jewish voters (as com­pared to their non-Jewish neighbors of similar socioeconomic backgrounds) leads one to speculate as to the particular motivation of this one ethnoreligious group. Obviously no single factor explains 200 years of Jewish voting behavior, but a number of distinct patterns emerge.

Church-State Separation

For 200 years, the issue of church-state separation and strict limits on the degree to which government should involve itself in moral matters have generated great support from American Jewish voters. Similarly, for 200 years, one of the two major political parties has usually been more willing for government to legislate on "moral" questions, and one major party has been more libertarian in this regard. The im­pulse to accept a more puritanical role for government was, until the last part of the 20th century, more pronounced in New England and in areas of the nation settled by New Englanders.

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Ira N. Forman

Ira N. Forman is the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council and the research director of the Solomon Project.