From the Pew to the Polls: How Do Jewish Values Influence Political Beliefs, Action?



Most of the headlines about a new Public Religion Research Institute poll on Jewish values and political beliefs have focused on question about who the respondents would like to see win the 2012 presidential election: “2 in 3 Jewish voters back Obama,” Politico declared. “In poll, Jewish voters overwhelmingly support Obama,” said The New York Times. “Most Jews support Obama’s re-election: survey,” according to Reuters.

As someone who was in the room at the official release of the poll’s results, I can acknowledge that this finding is certainly newsworthy. But the survey also asked American Jews some interesting questions about the kinds of experiences and values that influence their political beliefs and Jewish identity; their beliefs on the role of government in addressing economic inequality and the proper balance between diplomacy and military intervention in crafting foreign policy; their attitudes toward prominent social issues such as immigration, abortion and marriage equality; and their perceptions of the challenges facing Israel and the status of the U.S.-Israel relationship. I encourage you to read the full report, “Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012,” to glean all of the findings, but I’ll highlight a few of the ones that piqued my interest given our work at the RAC:

  • A total of 84% of Jews surveyed said that “pursuing justice” is either very important (52%) or somewhat important (32%) in shaping their political beliefs and actions. A similar number (80%) cited “caring for the widow and orphan” as very important (34%) or somewhat important (46%), and 72% listed “tikkun olam, healing the world,” as very important (35%) or somewhat important (37%).

  • When it comes to which Jewish values or practices are most important to their Jewish identity, 46% cited “a commitment to social equality.” The next highest item selected was “support for Israel,” which 20% of respondents said was most important to their Jewish identity.
  • Much like the rest of the American population, the economy is the most important issue in Jewish voters’ minds for the 2012 election. Jewish Americans also track the general American population in their support for the government doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor: The PRRI survey found that 64% of Jewish Americans support a larger role for the government in reducing the income gap, compared with 67% of the general American population.
    • One place where the differences on economic issues between Jewish Americans and the general American population is more pronounced is when you ask whether they support a tax increase on Americans earning more than $1 million a year (a proposal commonly known as the “Buffet Rule,” after billionaire Warren Buffet): 81% of American Jews say they support this proposal, compared with 70% of all Americans.
    • It is also worth noting that there was a stark difference between the percentage of Jewish Republicans who support an increased governmental role in reducing the income gap (31%) compared with the percentage of Jewish independents (54%) and Jewish Democrats (80%).
    • On key social issues, 70% of American Jews support the DREAM Act (compared with 57% of the general population); 93% of American Jews believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases (compared with 53% of the general population); and 81% of American Jews support marriage equality (compared with 48% of the general population).
    • Turning to foreign policy, American Jews say by a more than 2-1 margin that good diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace. If, however, economic sanctions do not stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, 59% of American Jews say they support the U.S. taking military action to prevent the development of a nuclear weapon.
    • When it comes to Israel, 53% of American Jews as Ultra-Orthodox control of religious life is a major problem.
    • When asked for their feelings on President Obama’s policies toward Israel, 20% said they agree with the President’s policies and like the way he is executing them; 15% said they agree with the President’s policies but dislike the way he is executing them; and 28% said they disagree with the President’s policies.
      • What I found to be most notable with this question was that 36% – the highest number than any other response on this question – said they were not sure.

Again, I encourage you to read the full report, “Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012”—and tell us what you think of the results in the comments section below!

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Deborah Swerdlow

About Deborah Swerdlow

Deborah is the Religious Action Center's Program Associate. She was a 2010-2011 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant

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