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Interesting Result from a Survey of American Jewish Opinion:

American Jews are thought by many to be overwhelmingly liberal, but they apparently don't perceive of themselves that way. According to a recent poll, here is how American Jews characterize their political views:

Extremely liberal 4%; Liberal 26%; Slightly liberal 12%; Moderate 32%; Slightly conservative 10%; Conservative 12%; Extremely conservative 3%; Not sure 2%

So, while self-described liberals outnumber self-described conservatives, it's by 42% to 25%, with 32% describing themselves as moderates. Put another way, self-described moderates and conservatives in the Jewish community outnumber self-described liberals by 57% to 42%.

I can think of two plausible explanations for these results, which show a far less liberal Jewish community than one might expect based on reputation. One is that Orthodox Jews, Israelis, and immigrants from the former USSR, all of whom tend to be conservative relative to the general Jewish population, (I'm not certain that this is true of Israelis, but anecdotally they tend to be significantly more conservative than American Jews on at least military and church-state issues) are gradually becoming an increasingly large fraction of the Jewish community, and this is gradually making the community more conservative.

Another possibility is that the results are deceiving, and that many self-described "moderates" are only moderate compared to the people they tend to hang around with--disproportionately well-educated blue state urbanites working in professions that tend to be politically liberal (medicine, law, education, etc.) In other words, it's possible that many self-described Jewish moderates are really, in general American political terminology, quite liberal.

Of course, these two explanations are not contradictory, and both may be true. Does anyone know of other surveys that provide data that might shed more light on these subjects?

jota:
I'm no so sure israelis, other than orthodox israelis, are really conservative on church/state issues.
10.25.2006 6:01pm
Enoch:
ALL liberals, of every race, color, creed, and gender, do not think of themselves as liberals. They think of themselves as moderates and centrists.
10.25.2006 6:03pm
Justin (mail):
I'd add a third - most people, especcially if given the choice, will describe themselves as moderate irregardless of their political beliefs unless they are an ideologue - which most people are. I'd say the vast majority of New York Jews, for instance, are apolitical for the most part, even if their views are left (or right) of center - and so they will describe themsleves as moderate, even though that is more accurate only in strength of opinion and not in direction.

For instance, if you are ever bored, go to JDate and look at the New York profiles - while "Liberals" outnumber "Conservatives" in the political orientation area, most will say "Moderate" or more to the point "Unspecified". Contrast that with the DC profiles, who much more frequently will list Liberal or Conservative.

Two other points - one, your rule also works both ways. Jews raised in Orthadox areas who are politically conservative will write themselves off as moderate due to their surroundings as well - one of my very conservative (except socially) friends from law school considers himself a moderate, even as he takes views on non-social issues to the right of even the academic conservative mainstream.

The other - I find it that Jews in general who are conservative will opt for describing themselves as "moderate" - for one, they avoid discussions with more liberal jews about why they are (and these discussions may be uncomofortable), and for another, they tend to dislike the association "conservative" has with social (Christian) conservatives - and most conservative Jews, particularly non-Orthadox, are still socially liberal.
10.25.2006 6:08pm
Mike (mail) (www):
There's a decent number of Jews who are very liberal on church-state and social issues but might not describe themselves as "liberal" because of national defense or Israel-related issues.

I am pretty damn liberal on social issues, but I am still not going to share a label with the "blame Israel first" crowd!
10.25.2006 6:09pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Jota,

I didn't say conservative, I said "significantly more conservative," not quite the same thing. I've never heard an Israeli living in the U.S., for example, object to the idea of Jewish day schools on the principle that everyone should be educating in secular public schools, as one hears quite often from other American Jews.
10.25.2006 6:10pm
Justin (mail):
Enoch, I do not consider myself a moderate. Either I am in fact not a liberal, or you are wrong. Perhaps characterizing people who you disagree with as caractatures might not be as helpful in understanding demographics as it is confirming your worldview.
10.25.2006 6:10pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Justin,

Those are good points, though it's also true that if both conservatives and liberals are likely to call themselves moderates, if they do so proportionately, and there are proportionately more liberal Jews than there are conservative Jews, the result will still be to make the Jewish community look less liberal than it is.
10.25.2006 6:14pm
Justin (mail):
DB,

I think that's true. If there are more liberals than conservatives, even if conservatives are more likely to call themselves moderate the overall effect could drain more liberals into the moderate section than conservatives.

In all, I don't think the poll is very uesful.
10.25.2006 6:18pm
Steve:
A lot of people who would align themselves with liberals on most or all issues nonetheless prefer to describe themselves as moderate rather than liberal, because "liberal" has become something of a dirty word in current discourse.

There's no denying that Jews are generally more liberal than the American public at large. But notwithstanding that, I think there are a non-trivial number of Jews who align with conservatives but would prefer to describe themselves as moderate, because "conservative" - in the political sense - can be something of a dirty word in certain Jewish circles. Why, it makes it sound like you're against social justice, and all that.
10.25.2006 6:18pm
Henri LeCompte (mail):
I would tend to be skeptical of any political self-identification. Everyone likes to be thought of as "moderate" and "open-minded," whether or not they deserve the title.

A better measure would be to have respondents give their opinions on a few key issues (taxes, welfare, abortion, etc). Then, of course, you would still have to decide where to draw your lines...

Probably the easiest thing of all would be to ask people "do you tend to vote Republican or Democratic?" That's all that anyone cares about these days anyway.
10.25.2006 6:20pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):

Put another way, self-described moderates and conservatives in the Jewish community outnumber self-described liberals by 57% to 42%.

Put another way, self-described liberals and moderates in the Jewish community outnumber self-described conservatives by 74% to 25%.
10.25.2006 6:22pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
DB,

It's reasonable to suspect that self-reporting as moderate/centrist isn't proportional. Jews concentrate in heavily liberal urban areas, affluent liberal suburban areas. Many people, knowing that they are in a small minority, will not wish to self-identify as being too "radical." I've met quite a few people who identify themselves as moderate, or even liberal, but when particular issues come up, they reveal themselves as conservatives or libertarians.
10.25.2006 6:24pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

Put another way, self-described liberals and moderates in the Jewish community outnumber self-described conservatives by 74% to 25%.

Snarky, but irrelevant. The point that the survey refutes is that liberals are the dominant group within the Jewish community. Saying that liberals are outnumbered by 57% to 42% achieves that. Saying that Liberals, while joined with another very large group, comprise a majority doesn't really prove anything except that very statement.
10.25.2006 6:27pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I don't think voting patterns tell you much; many Jews remain Democrats for reasons that have little to do with ideology, or only because they dislike the influence of evangelical/fundamentalist Protestantism on the Republicans, even if they are otherwise somewhat conservative. As for Mike's point, my point of view may be skewed by being in academia, but I seem to meet lots of folks who think of themselves as moderates, and who are indeed moderates within their own social/anthropological contexts, but compared with the American population as a whole are quite clearly "liberals."
10.25.2006 6:31pm
Steve:
Jews concentrate in heavily liberal urban areas, affluent liberal suburban areas

Affluent suburban areas tend to be liberal? Not where I come from. Affluent suburbs are pure Stepford Republican territory.
10.25.2006 6:59pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
I think the troubles in Israel and the run-up to the Iraq war moved Jews to the right. The shift I observed in liberal Jews I knew was real.

But as the war goes on, I think most Jews are "going home" to the left.
ALL liberals, of every race, color, creed, and gender, do not think of themselves as liberals. They think of themselves as moderates and centrists.
Except, apparently, the 30% of American Jews who self-identified as liberal (I'm counting "slightly liberal" as self-identifying as a moderate). So your statement is directly, blatantly, painfully contradicted by the very data you are commenting on.

If we assume the 25% of American Jews who self-identify as or lean towards conservative are definitely not liberals, then at most 75% of American Jews are liberals.

30/75 is 40%. That means at least 40% of Jewish liberals identify as liberals and at most 60% of Jewish liberals identify as moderates. And that's assuming there are no Jewish moderates, at all—the more moderates there are, the worse the figures get for Enoch*

* it's possible that all Jewish liberals are identifying as moderates, but Jewish moderates are identifying as liberals, in which case Enoch's statement would still be true. Fun with statistics!
10.25.2006 7:01pm
Justin (mail):
Mike, I don't think that you have the point correct. If what you were saying was indeed the testing hypothesis, the hypothesis itself is absurd - the majority of Jews, including many who reliably vote Democratic, are apolitical. Those who have firmly set political beliefs and developed ideology, while being the majority here at Volokh, are by far the minority across any major national demographic, including Jews.

The only reason this isn't shown in national polls is because in large swarths of the country, being "conservative" is a social, rather than political, phenomenon - which is much to the credit of the Christian Conservative movement which pushed that. But even most "Chrstian Conservatives" don't feel particularly strongly about their views.
10.25.2006 7:09pm
Steve:
I think the troubles in Israel and the run-up to the Iraq war moved Jews to the right. The shift I observed in liberal Jews I knew was real.

Well, I can certainly think of anecdotal evidence of my own. But the thing is, polls have consistently shown Jews to be more opposed to the Iraq war than the American public at large, both before the war and during. So even though world events moved the whole country somewhat to the right - to the extent there was widespread public support for a war that probably wouldn't have passed muster otherwise - I don't think Jews were MORE moved than the rest of the country.
10.25.2006 7:15pm
Kovarsky (mail):
david,

third hypothesis: jews tend to self-identify as conservative because the variable most driving their self-identification is the two political parties' stance on israel.

it is also easy to see why self-identification would be more biased in this direction than would other-identificaiton, since other-identification is probably a function of longer-term observation, less susceptible to periodic fluctuation with changes in political climate.
10.25.2006 7:18pm
zooba:
Justin, did you really say irregardless?
10.25.2006 7:55pm
whit:
"The point that the survey refutes is that liberals are the dominant group within the Jewish community"

Refutes? The survey does nothing of the sort. The survey only speaks to how they perceive themselves, not how they are. Those are two totally different things.

I totally agree with the second hypothesis in the original post. Clearly, when most people you surround yourself with are from moderate to ultra-liberal, then the moderate seem conservative, the liberal seem moderate and the ultra-liberal seem at most to be liberal.

It's a cultural myopia. It reminds me of the famous pauline kael comment about how she couldn't understand how nixon could have won the presidency since she didn't know anybody who voted for him. Talk about small circles.
10.25.2006 7:56pm
Enoch:
Justin, I couldn't resist the urge to give you an opportunity pompously to refute an argument that was clearly not intended to be taken at face value.

Affluent suburban areas tend to be liberal? Not where I come from. Affluent suburbs are pure Stepford Republican territory.

Not around here (Arlington and Fairfax County), where the robots are all Democrats with the obligatory Kerry/Edwards sticker on the Prius.
10.25.2006 8:31pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
Surveys that ask respondents to self-describe their position on the liberal - conservative axis can be highly misleading. A survey that asked respondents their opinions on certain situations or scenarios would give more accurate results. For example, one could ask a question on taxation designed to redistribute income. Those who were strongly in favor would be scored as liberal on that question.
10.25.2006 8:36pm
Larry6772 (mail):
The poll showed that just 15 percent of the people polled identified themselves as Republican (54% said they were Democrat and 29% Independent). Unfortunately the poll did not ask people their opinions about abortion, or gay marriage, or support for gays generally, or for the value of labor unions, the need for universal affordable health care, whether America was doing enough to help the underprivileged, whether inequality was a serious problem in America, or whether the government was taxing the rich enough. That would have shown where Jews truly stood on the issues — and I suspect Jews would turn out to be significantly more to the left on all the issues, both economic and social.
OTOH, 40% said that illegal immigration was a serious problem and 38% thought it was "somewhat of a problem," which surprised me. But American Jews have always had a fearful, xenophobic side to them, which given their history and the present state of the world, is understandable.
Unfortunately, Liberal is still more of an "L" word than the other "L" word, especially among the apolitical. Tons of Jews have intermarried and have to deal with their "machatainister" (in-laws), who already think they're Communists. Calling themselves "moderate" is a matter of intra-familial survival. Relations are hard enough without having to defend the label "liberal."
It's also simply possible that as time goes on, Jews probably start to look more like the rest of America, especially as we intermarry, and as the generations that themselves experienced poverty, injustice and intolerance die off.
10.25.2006 9:26pm
Seerak (mail):
I am pretty damn liberal on social issues, but I am still not going to share a label with the "blame Israel first" crowd!

This illustrates why the survey would have been helped if they also asked: "How would you have describe yourself X years ago?"

That way we could determine how much of an effect the return of anti-Semitism to the Left are having on Jewish political outlooks.
10.25.2006 9:39pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
I think Larry6722 hit the nail on the head. The poll didn't ask about enough social issues to inform us how "liberal" many of the respondents were, regardless of what label they adopt for themselves. My own view is that most of my friends who are jewish are more "liberal" than nonjewish white people, but not uniformly so (i.e., not on every issue).

Now, it may be that some of the American jewish community is moving more to the right, as the composition of that community changes (DB's hypothesis #1), or as that community becomes more integrated or intermarried (Larry6722's last suggestion), or as some of that community moves away from "liberal" urban enclaves to more conservative suburbs (university towns don't count as suburbs, they have their own political dynamic).

I would still bet that more jewish americans self-describe themselves as "liberal" than other caucasian groups. I find this remarkable, given that Reagan attempted to make, and Bush/Rove have continued to try to make, "liberal" into a dirty word, e.g., someone who supports the rights of criminals (the Reaganite critique) and terrorists (the Bush/Rove critique), and favors killing babies (the religious right critique) and destroying our economy through ruinous taxation and regulation (the Republican/Libertarian critique).
10.25.2006 9:43pm
French Trader:
"Does anyone know of other surveys that provide data that might shed more light on these subjects?"

What do voting results show in heavily Jewish districts. That should give you the answer. People are what they do, not what they say.
10.25.2006 10:55pm
Anon@corsx.com (mail):
Ask Americans to say whether they are rich or poor, and most of them will say middle class. They may be middle class, but it depends on how one defines middle class. Ask Americans to say whether they're liberal or conservative, and a lot of people will say moderate. It just depends on how you define it. I would guess that a lot of people that answered this poll might disagree about what the words liberal, conservative, or moderate mean against what a Christian from Kentucky might think they mean, or a Buddhist from California, or a Muslim from Alabama, or a...or a...
10.25.2006 11:28pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
I'm not at school at the moment so I don't have access to anything past the first page, but there's an article I found on JSTOR about political self-identification accuracy that might be helpful. It's a bit old, but I don't think that'll really wreck things. Also I'm sure there are other articles out there. Anyway, yay for research and boo to going in circles on this issue.

The Accuracy of Self-Reported Data and Prediction of Political Activity
Charles R. Tittle, Richard J. Hill
Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring, 1967), pp. 103-106
10.26.2006 12:02am
Lev:
When asked how she was registered, Marcia Clarke answered: I'm registered as a Republican but I never vote that way.
10.26.2006 12:19am
NickM (mail) (www):
The illegal immigration polling issue is not that surprising, because the highest population clusters of Jews in America are chiefly in areas heavily impacted by immigration (NYC, L.A., and south Florida).

I tend toward the rationale originally offered on this thread in Justin's first post.

Nick
10.26.2006 11:41am
wt (www):
Isn't the real indicator of unreliability here that 2% of the Jews surveyed didn't have an opinion?
10.26.2006 12:08pm
A.C.:
So what's a liberal and what's a conservative anyway? The definitions seem to have shifted in recent years.

When I associate Jewish people with liberalism, it's generally old-school liberalism that involved labor issues and economic redistribution, with an element of the civil rights movement as it was in the 50s and early 60s added on. I don't necessarily think of Jewish people in association with current liberalism, which is rather incoherent but which mostly seems to involve moral and cultural relativism. The two kinds of liberalism are almost opposites in my mind, anyway. Wasn't the civil rights movement about moral absolutes? And the fact that Jews have survived as a distinct people all this time is about the most stunning rejection of cultural relativism I can imagine.

Conservatism has changed too, of course, and I can see why someone who isn't a Christian -- and a certain kind of Christian at that -- wouldn't want to join that camp.

So why don't people believe moderates are really moderates... folks who don't want to be associated with either end of the rather strange political continuum we have at the moment? What people would have been on the political scale available in 1972 is irrelevant. We have a different one now.
10.26.2006 12:36pm
Steve Rosenbach (www):
"...I would still bet that more jewish americans self-describe themselves as "liberal" than other caucasian groups..."

Hey, wait a minute! As I always tell my kids, I'm not white, I'm Jewish!
10.26.2006 1:17pm
whit:
shades of Juan Epstein...

I know many very liberal people (of various religions and belief systems) and very few actually believe their views are left of center at all.

I think a good benchmark is the meta-polling site : www.pollingreport.com

This can at least provide a metric for how liberal or conservative one is on various issues, in relation to how the american public as a whole responds to questions on these issues in various polls: gun control, abortion, taxes, etc. etc. etc.

Again, I see the primary reason why such a small %age of jews self-identify as liberal is the fact that they (like many others) see their left of center views as mainstream. Even a cursory glance at how the population of the US *actually* comes down on various issues is a hard dose of reality.

I grew up in a liberal jewish household, and on the campus of a liberal ivy league college. I know firsthand that the viewpoints I was exposed to were never defined as liberal, they simply were presented as the "correct' viewpoints, and I had no idea how easily the far left can appear mainstream, when one is surrounded by people who are engaged in similar liberal groupthink.

It is very easy, when surrounded by like minded people, to ignore the reality of how most people think about most things.
10.27.2006 12:43pm