Why American Jews Are Overwhelmingly Liberal

Books could be written on the subject of why most American Jews are liberal.

In fact books have been written, the best of which is probably Norman Podhoretz’ Why Are Jews Liberals?

The answer is more emotional- and “feel”-based than factual- or logic-based. Certainly, Republican policies of the last 30-40 years towards Israel and Republican foreign policy in general are more favorable to Israel than the Democrats’ policies.

But as summarized in a Publisher’s Weekly review, “Immigrant American Jews were attracted to the Democratic Party”, says Podhoretz, “because it was the closest counterpart to the European leftists who had favored Jewish emancipation.”

Expanding on that thought, in their home countries in Europe and Russia, Jews were so persecuted and discriminated against, that once in their new American homeland, they wanted to distance themselves from that treatment as far as possible. The tolerance, softness and “acceptance” of the American liberal philosophy appealed to them on an emotional level, since it represented the social freedom that had eluded them for generations in the ‘old country.’

It’s important to bear in mind that the Democratic/liberal philosophy of FDR or JFK was a great distance removed from the über-soft/politically-correct/non-offensive-at-all-costs liberal philosophy and policies of today. But the basic tenet of “hard work and you’ll be rewarded” coupled with the essential American societal promise of non-discrimination (certainly not perfect in actuality, but orders of magnitude better than what it had been in Europe and Russia) were well-accepted by Jewish immigrants to the U.S in the first half of the 20th century. Those are the generations that spawned today’s liberal Jewish majority.

That thought has now gained a self-sustaining momentum all its own, such that it is now tradition and expected behavior for American Jews to be liberal. There is a definite “that’s the way it’s always been in my family” component to this, not unlike the liberal/Democratic allegiance that most African-Americans have for the Democratic Party as well (although for markedly different reasons). To reiterate: most of today’s American Jewish liberal voters grew up in households that were already liberal/Democratic. In other words, today’s Jewish liberal voter was not a blank sheet of paper, left to their own devices to make a philosophical determination on their own. Their family was likely liberal, their emotional environment was liberal, and their American cultural/societal/religious enclave was liberal. Many of today’s American Jews grew up in areas of high Jewish density, so their communities were largely one-dimensional (Jewish-liberal) as well.

This is not to say that other voting blocs aren’t mostly predetermined by environment, inertia and tradition also. Many are. But the American Jewish liberal voting tradition is particularly interesting because many of their social precepts and foreign-policy vested interests would augur a more conservative bearing.

To wit: many, if not most, of the guiding social principles that Jewish families espoused and impressed upon their children in the second half of the 20th century -- hard work, self-sufficiency, a good education (“You’ll go to college, you’ll get a good job, you’ll make us proud”) would be considered conservative by today’s permissive, less-accountable, “participation trophy” standards.

Additionally, many American Jews have a deep loyalty and affinity with Israel, to the point that many of them consider Israel to be a “second home country,” even if they’ve never been there. American Jews’ recognition of the necessity of Israel to take harsh, non-apologetic security and military measures to provide for its own national security (while either conveniently ignoring or disagreeing with America’s need to do the same) would also be considered a more conservative position than liberal.

Yet the vast majority of American Jews remain wedded to the liberal/Democratic mindset.

When faced with hard evidence to the contrary -- like the Obama administration’s recent abstention from the UN Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements, the upshot of which is that Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders -- most American Jews frantically genuflect and rationalize to justify their original liberal position. “Well, Israel is Israel, and I’m an American first. My views on domestic politics are shaped by what I believe is best for me here in America, not on America’s actions towards Israel.”

So much for the “Israel as my second country” mindset.

Another example: Given the very high cultural importance that most Jews place on education, hard work and professional success, high-achieving Jews are often the victims of set-asides and demographic quotas when it comes to college admissions and other restrictive/promotional situations. But with inexplicable -- almost laughable -- incongruence, most Jews are in favor of affirmative action–type social programs, unless, of course, it happens to negatively affect them or their family personally. This is the emotional component of their liberal attachment, when logic goes out the window.

I previously touched on the fact that today’s conservative Republican foreign policies are usually more favorable to Israel than the softer, more all-inclusive approach favored by today’s Democrats. The Southern U.S. is currently a Republican stronghold. Yet there is an unspoken (but undeniably real) prejudice that many coastal/North Eastern elite Jewish people feel towards the Southern-drawled Christian Bible belt. “Those people” are simply too foreign for Ivy-league-educated Jews to identify with, regardless of the many common positions that the two groups share vis-à-vis Israel, terrorism, and the Middle East. “Israel as a second country” works for today’s Jews when vacationing in Haifa or when making a feel-good donation to the Men’s Club at their temple; it very rarely translates into a consistent, logical, actionable political stance.

As previously stated, modern American Jewish liberalism is unquestionably more emotional/cultural-based than it is logic-based. But Jewish liberalism is real, and you can see it in every Presidential election, as 80-90% of the Jewish vote goes to the Democratic candidate. Every time.