Why Aren't More Jews Attracted to the GOP?
I am an outspoken Zionist, Jewish Republican, and Trump-supporter, and as such, I have a number of conservative friends. Given that I live in a trendy neighborhood in a large metropolitan area, I have many liberal Jewish friends as well. Many of my conservative friends have approached me over the years and asked me why more Jews aren't Republicans. Given my unique personal and political situation, I will do my best in this piece to answer this question.
The question is especially acute at times like the present, when Israel is under attack, not only by Hamas, but by the international community and media. The Trump administration, on the other hand, has been steadfast in its support for Israel – it followed through on its promises to exit Obama's Great Appeasement to Iran and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, has not obsessed over Israel building apartments in suburbs of Jerusalem (as the Obama administration did), and has vigorously defended Israel for its response to Hamas's provocations in Gaza. Further, 15 GOP members of Congress attended the embassy dedication ceremony, while zero Democrats (including none of the 26 Jewish Democratic Congressional members) did. The question my friends ask is more than a justifiable query; it is a question that demands answering if one is to attain a remotely accurate picture of the current political landscape.
Before providing my explanations for the question that headlines this article, I would like to explain two things that I will not be trying to do in this piece. One: While I personally believe that the natural home of most American Jews should be the Republican Party, I will not attempt to persuade Jews to abandon the Democratic Party. (I used to occasionally vote for Democrats until 2006, when they kicked Joe Lieberman out of the party. The party abandoned me.) Two: I will not pretend to paint a full picture of the chain of causality for this topic. That would take a book to explain.
The main reason why Jews appear to be prime candidates to join the Republican base is the GOP's unwavering support of Israel, as opposed to the Democratic Party (particularly the progressive wing of the party)'s willingness to criticize Israel. A 2013 Pew survey and other surveys suggest, however, that this issue, support of Israel, simply does not hold the sway over the majority of the population of American Jews that many people would expect it to. Only 43% of Jews believed that caring about Israel is an essential part of being Jewish. More directly to the point of how appealing the GOP's diligent support of Israel has been to the Jewish electorate, 89% of Jews believe that being strongly critical of Israel is compatible with being Jewish.
In addition, Jews appear to be voting against their economic interests. As Richard Baehr noted in his Wall Street Journal review of Norman Podhoretz's 2009 book Why Are Jews Liberals?:
Jews advanced in America in the mid-20th century when the meritocracy took hold, individual effort and achievement were rewarded, and group quotas, which limited Jewish educational opportunity and economic advancement, were eliminated. How odd, then, to see Jews aligned with the party that embraces identity politics, affirmative action and quota-driven policies. Democrats also favor higher taxes and more government regulation, neither of which tends to produce the sort of economic expansion that benefits everyone, including the marginalized.
The Pew Survey, and others like it, should reveal the shortcomings that an Israel-centered courting of the Jewish electorate will face in America. That being said, the surprising level of indifference or, in some cases, even active opposition to the actions of Israel in the Jewish population do not alone explain the level to which Jews continue to maintain their allegiance to the Democratic Party (which, for reference, was represented in the most recent election by 71% for Clinton and 24% for Donald Trump).
To some degree, these numbers cannot be separated from the historical fact that Jews, who identify with the marginalized, have been in the Democratic camp for the better part of one hundred years, with some minor blips along the way (such as Jimmy Carter winning only 45% of the Jewish vote). Inheritance of political affiliation, passing through many generations, is not uncommon and should not be discounted in this case. There is reason to believe, however, that there are recent causes at play here, rather than attributing the current situation to the mere extrapolation of a fixed historical characteristic (i.e., Jews lean left).
One such factor is social pressure and conformity. Another is the apparent need to signal their virtue by advocating for every liberal cause imaginable, no matter how extreme, whether it be open borders or confiscating income through imposing punitive taxes on those who are talented and work hard, to redistribute to others. I have many politically conservative Jewish friends who do not advertise their views for fear of being shunned by friends and family, something I have personally experienced. This is also true among young Jews on college campuses, where often only one political perspective is even heard. Further, many rabbis and congregants seem to worship "social justice" more than the teachings of the Torah. As Richard Baehr pointed out:
Even those Jews who do go to synagogue often find a way to remain comfortable in their political beliefs: Mr. Podhoretz describes how liberal Jews – rabbis and worshipers alike – routinely cherry-pick passages from the Torah to buttress favored social policies. The Hebrew word for charity, tzedakah, he says, has been seized on by liberal Jews over the years to promote FDR's New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and "social justice." Mr. Podhoretz quotes a professor of modern Jewish history who said the Torah's instruction made voting for John McCain impossible because he had opposed raising the minimum wage.
It is also true, however, that many of my liberal Jewish friends I speak with are driven away from the Republican Party due to the perception that the Republican Party's base is primarily made up of white Evangelical voters. This has been confirmed in surveys as well. Any attempt to reach out to Jews, such as via taking a supportive stance on Israel, comes across as shallower when the perceived base of the Republican Party is made up of a group that so many Jews have political differences with, whether it be abortion, gun rights, marriage, immigration, or prayer in schools, among others.
I think more Jews will join the GOP, but for the foreseeable future, this will be driven mostly by Orthodox Jews, who already lean solidly Republican and are increasing their share of the Jewish population. Given that they have large families and that secular Jews do not (and many marry non-Jewish spouses), this is inevitable.
But what of the rest of the Jewish population? To the extent that the Republican Party focuses less on divisive and largely settled social issues like abortion rights (before viability) and gay marriage, and to the extent that it can effectively counter the perception as a party whose true target is white Christian voters, a gradual increase in the Republican share of the vote is possible. The fact that there are many more minority rising stars in the GOP, such as U.N. ambassador and former governor Nikki Haley; Senators Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio; Governor Brian Sandoval; and Representative Mia Love, to name just a few, is a step in the "right" direction. The recent hysterical reaction of many on the left to Kanye West's announced support for President Trump is a sign of the Democratic Party's dependence on a very high percentage of minority group voters. If some in these groups shift to the Republicans, it would make it easier for some liberal Jews to give the party a chance as well.