Jewish Republicans are not exotic

June 12

I’m getting a bit weary of reading commentary on Rep. Cantor’s election loss implying that Jewish Republicans are some sort of exotic, rare phenomenon. Yes, there are a lot more Jewish Democrats than Jewish Republicans. But survey data shows that about 15-20% of Jews identify as Republicans and, if you include “leaners,” it’s close to 30%. (And of course, this blog has quite a few contributors who are Jewish and Republican, or Republican-leaning).

So why was Cantor the only Jewish Republican in the House, compared to dozens of Democrats? Before a Jewish Republican can be elected to Congress, you need a viable Jewish candidate who lives in a district inclined to vote GOP. The vast majority of American Jews live in a few major metro areas–L.A., NY, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, South Florida, DC, Bay Area–that collectively send precious few Republicans to Congress.

Moreover, a significant percentage of Jewish Republicans, probably around one-third, are Orthodox Jews, who are even more concentrated in big metro areas, and in the especially Democratic urban cores and inner suburbs of those areas. Not to mention that national politics isn’t terribly compatible with a strictly Orthodox lifestyle (Joe Lieberman was on the very modern side of modern Orthodoxy, and managed to get a ruling from his rabbi that he could vote in the Senate on Shabbat; American Orthodoxy, however, is increasingly dominated by stricter styles of Orthodoxy).

The other major Jewish demographic that leans Republican is Jews from the former Soviet Union. Besides obvious language and cultural barriers, the “Russians” are also concentrated in the inner core of Democrat-dominated major metro areas, especially New York.

UPDATE: According to this Wikipedia entry, which seems consistent with other sources I’ve seen (except for its estimate of 230,000 Jews in Atlanta, which is way too high and is unsourced), the metropolitcan areas I identify above are home to approximately 3/4 of all American Jews.

David Bernstein is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA.
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Will Baude · June 12