Though most American Jews remain Democratic, the following article describes a weakening of that relationship, especially among young Jews, the Orthodox, and interfaith families. In addition, other scholars have spoken of a fourth group, Russian Jewish immigrants, as a heavily Republican demographic. This article, written in 2003, is excerpted with permission from a longer piece on American Jewish voting patterns that appears on the website of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Jewish voting patterns after World War II reflected sustained engagement with the Democratic Party. In summarizing voting studies of the past 40 years, 50 percent of American Jews identify with the Democratic Party. Another 30-35 percent are Independents, while some 13-17 percent define themselves as Republicans.
How Jews Vote
Where once the Democratic Party could count on a 90 percent Jewish turnout for its candidates, these numbers are now generally 60-75 percent, depending upon particular elections and specific candidates. Historically, Jews have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in congressional races. Over the last several decades, Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates peaked at 82 percent in 1982, according to The New York Times.
By contrast, the high point for Republicans was 32 percent of the Jewish vote garnered in House races in 1988. During the 1990s, Democrats secured at least 73 percent of the Jewish vote in House of Representatives races.
Only Ronald Reagan among Republican presidential candidates was able to break this pattern when he received nearly 38 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980. Traditionally, Republican candidates for the White House receive around 18 percent of the national Jewish vote.
According to data collected over the past several years, an overwhelming majority of Jews–73 percent–describe themselves as moderate or liberal; 23 percent label themselves as conservative. By contrast, 42 percent of American Protestants and 34 percent of Catholics identify themselves as conservative.
Predicting the Future
There are a number of indicators today that may impact on future elections. For example, there is some evidence that younger Jews do not hold the same degree of loyalty to the Democratic Party and, as a result, are more likely to register as Independent or Republican.
Thus, the Republican Party may have a better chance of picking up the Jewish vote in the towns inhabited by young professionals in northern New Jersey than in the retirement communities of southern Florida. While these numbers do not indicate a definitive generational trend, it does appear that both Orthodox Jews and Jews who are from more secular backgrounds tend to vote Republican more frequently than do other Jewish constituencies, clearly for different ideological, political, and cultural reasons.
Jewish voting patterns are also distinctively different in state and local elections. In larger metropolitan areas with significant Jewish populations, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, one finds Jewish voting patterns in local and statewide campaigns driven by self-interest with respect to financial, security, and specific public policy concerns. Similarly, the attractiveness of particular candidates may contribute to altered voting patterns. Centrist Republicans in local and state elections are often able to attract significant Jewish support.
Two cohort groups within the Jewish community show particularly significant voting patterns. The growing Orthodox communities in the New York metropolitan area and elsewhere are distinctively Republican, and are contributing to the reshaping of political outcomes in some local and state elections.
Correspondingly, Jews raised in households with a non-Jewish parent and who identify nominally with Judaism also tend to vote Republican, according to data extracted from various Jewish surveys.