Polling data and experts interviewed by The Washington Post do not show a Jewish exodus from the Democratic Party in the Trump years. They show a demographic group that continues to vote at exceedingly high rates for Democrats — as it has for decades. That number actually ticked up when Trump was elected, with 71 percent voting for Hillary Clinton and only 24 percent voting for him in 2016.“This is something people have talked about for decades,” Matt Boxer, a professor at Brandeis University who has studied Jewish political involvement, said of the push for Jews to leave the Democratic Party. “But there’s no evidence when you look at survey data.”
Indeed, Republicans’ cult-like reverence for a racist, xenophobic liar continued to turn off the vast majority of American Jews. While the notoriously partisan Republican Jewish Coalition claimed President Biden drew “only” 60 percent of the vote in 2020, a poll commissioned by left-wing J Street put the number at 77 percent (echoing past polling from the Pew Research Center). If the latter is more accurate, Jews are about as loyal to the Democratic Party as White evangelical Christians are to the GOP.
A new poll suggests either the J Street poll was correct — or that Jews have returned in even stronger numbers to the Democratic Party. The Jewish Electorate Institute survey of more than 800 self-identified Jews found that 80 percent approve of Biden’s job performance and that they favor Democrats for Congress by a 68 percent to 21 percent margin. American Jews approved of Biden’s handling of the recent Israel-Hamas conflict (62-21 percent) and of his relations with Israel in general (74-26 percent). Support for a two-state solution remains quite high (61 percent), as does aid for Israel (71 percent), but slightly less than aid to the Palestinians (58 percent), which Biden resumed.
However, like the country at large, there is a massive chasm running through the Jewish community: Orthodox Jews remain overwhelmingly conservative politically, support Donald Trump and put Israel at the top of their priorities; the rest of the Jewish community (religiously Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and unaffiliated) lean strongly Democratic. Eighty-two percent of the American Jewish community identify as progressive (18 percent), liberal (32 percent) or moderate (also 32 percent).
Among non-Orthodox Jews, 96 percent favor a Democrat for Congress and 86 percent approve of Biden’s performance. In the same vein, 69 percent of Republican/Orthodox Jews disapprove of Biden’s performance, his handling of the Hamas war and his handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
There is one common concern among shared by each Jewish religious branch: antisemitism. More than 90 percent of both Republican/Orthodox and Reform Jews are worried about bigotry against their communities, though they differ on the nature of the threat. Orthodox Jews are convinced it comes from the left, while others see it coming from the right. Put differently: The former think “the Squad” is the problem; the latter think the threat comes from violent White supremacists such as those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and massacred Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. The divide in the Jewish community flows in part from each group’s priorities. For Orthodox Jews, the top three priorities are antisemitism, jobs and national security. For the rest, voting rights, climate change and jobs top the list.
It is not surprising then that on issues of democracy, non-Orthodox Jews voice grave concern about anti-democratic threats while Orthodox Jews follow the Republican party-line positions. Ninety-seven percent of Jewish Democrats are worried about voter suppression laws compared to 50 percent of Jewish Republicans (still high for Republicans generally). When asked whether they support legislation that would “expand voter access, make a national standard for voting rights across the country, and reverse the impact of the new election laws passed by the Florida and Georgia legislatures,” 93 percent of Jewish Democrats but only 35 percent of Jewish Republicans said yes.
Today’s Jews mostly reflect the overwhelming concern for the protections a diverse democracy offer them, as their community did when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel joined the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his fight for civil rights. But that is not a uniform phenomenon. Politically and religiously speaking, there are two American Jewish communities — one Orthodox/Republican and another that is a much larger group and is made up of diverse religious groups (ranging from conservative to unaffiliated Jews). Put differently, Orthodox Jews politically align with White evangelical Christians; the rest of American Jewry is in sync with core Democratic constituents.