Steven Windmueller
Is it Good for the Jews?

The Jewish Vote: Introducing Some New Political Models

During these closing days prior to America’s presidential election, we continue to see the further unwinding of this nation’s electorate. What we have known for some time is the deep cultural divisions that define the voting base within this country.

Inside the Jewish community we have identified a parallel political divide.[1] Over the years we have identified the various distinctive characteristics of these Jewish voters. Here is how I originally framed these political categories, some ten years ago:

The Red State Jewish Voter: These individuals reflect in their political behavior a particular commitment to social conservative principles; some within this camp often demonstrate less of an ideological or policy interest in domestic affairs.  This cohort of the Jewish vote is particularly supportive of a strong US-Israel relationship and values the importance of a strong American military, along with an American foreign policy agenda that is specifically designed to respond to international terrorism and the nation’s security concerns.

The Blue State Jewish Voter: This bloc represents the more traditional democratic liberal Jewish activist; these voters over the course of decades have dominated the Jewish political scene. Their politics reflected an alignment of their Jewish and civic values on behalf of an array of social causes.

As we prepare for this year’s political contest, let’s explore more directly these definitions. There are of course many shades of Red and Blue State Jewish voters, but in general terms the themes introduced below provide us with a generic portrait of these two voting classes:

POLITICAL DIMENSIONS:  There are ten chategories in comparing “Red State Jewish Voters” (RSJV) and “Blue State Jewish Voters” (BSJV).

Political Priorities:  Here, Republicans Jews or Red State Voters often begin by asking “Is it Good for the Jews?”  By contrast, many Democratic Jews or Blue State Voters will ask: “Is it Good for America?”

Organizing Propositions:  For RSJV a type of Political Particularism defines these voters as they focus primarily on self-interests and/or identity-based voting issues. For BSJV a type of Universalism is introduced, as they operate from a global perspective, identifying threats to democracy.

Focal Points: The Debate over Culture, Community and Destiny.  For Republican Jewish voters the focus is on “Somewhere” (in some measure identifying with David Goodhart’s book, The Road to Somewhere). These voters are committed to  preserving basic American values, as rootedness is core to their orientation. By contrast, Blue State Voters define “their road” which symbolically maybe to “Nowhere”, as they are prepared to engage in a conversation about redefining American culture and reshaping political ideas, moving forward!

Belief Systems:  Red State Voters have expressed particular concerns over left-wing political activism and policies, especially those directed against Israel.  Contrastingly, Blue State Voters view right-wing extremism as threatening not only to Jewish interests but to the nation’s core norms and values.

Economic Policies and Social Norms:  Republican voters affirm the fiscal and social policies of this Administration, as they embrace a free-market economy and celebrate individual rights and personal choices. By contrast, Democratic voters oppose many of these policies, seeking instead to greater government involvement as a way to level the economic and social inequities.

Rights and Obligations of Citizens: The RSJV voters affirm the importance of law and order, while BSJV seek to protect the rights of citizens to peacefully dissent as they petition government concerning their grievances.

Cultural Values: Core civic and communal values ought to be celebrated and observed according Republican Jewish voters. Historical events and personalities are central and sacred to this nation’s story.  Alternatively, Democratic Jewish voters would argue that America needs to reaffirm that its core civic values are in alignment with its political and social practices. As a society we need to revisit our past!

Religion and State: Many Jewish Republicans propose that religious ideas and practies should be welcomed within the public square.  In opposition, Jewish Democrats seek to reaffirm the separation of religion and state as a guiding Constitutional principle.

Individual and State: Individualism is a defining characteristic for Republican voters. The capacity to maximize opportunities and free choices represents a core value for this group.  Democratic voters generally adhere to the proposition that the welfare of the society represents a basic tenet of their political philosophy. Individuals, they would argue, thrive when the society is open to all and affords each citizen equal access.

Liberty and Law:  The Republican emphasis on the preservation and defense of the Constitution is a defining baseline in protecting individual rights and liberties. Democrats would argue that laws, including Constitutional principles, need to reflect the changing characteristis of the society.

Certainly, these ten categories of political practice merely serve to introduce us to the great diversity and significant divisions found among Jewish voters. As with all Americans, Jews reflect the rich diversity of political thought and practice that defines the general voting public. As Jews continue to assimilate into America’s social fabric, Jewish political behavior will further demonstrate the many ideological and cultural features that define this nation’s politics.

Among the “specialty” voter groupings that we can classify include these two sectors:[3]

The rebirth of “Red Diaper Baby Jewish Voters” offers one such example. If we saw in the late 1960’s a generation of voters who reflected their grandparents’ 1930’s leftwing, socialist perspectives, then what we are likely to see in this the second decade of the 21st century the grandkids of the 1960 generation acting out these same progressive politics. As part of American political behavior, one can find examples repetitive voting patterns, carried forward in a different timeframe by the offspring of those who held similar views a number of decades earlier.

Red State Jewish Nationalists,” who in the aftermath of the “build the wall” scenario share the President’s particular focus on national security. Drawing on the President’s commitment for a safe and secure Israel, these Jewish Republican voters want to demonstrate their loyalty to this administration by adopting this domestic message and mantra of the White House.

Over the past year, I have also identified another voter-type:[4]

The Gilded Voter: Despite the president’s conduct and questionable debate performance, there remain “hidden” voters who remain committed to the president. Last year, I labeled these as “Gilded Voters”—individuals, both Republicans and Democrats, who have benefitted from the president’s tax and fiscal policies and intend to support him for re-election in November. Within this sector, one finds Jewish voters, who may or may not publicly articulate their preference for this president. In the end, for this class of voters, the economy is the defining element.

Closing:

 With fewer than 30 days to November 3rd, we will continue to see unfolding of different political voting models, demonstrating the complexity and diversity that defines the “Jewish voter”.

[1] http://huc.edu/news/article/2011/snapshot-american-jewish-electorate-2011-political-survey-dr-steven-windmueller

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/22/the-road-to-somewhere-david-goodhart-populist-revolt-future-politics

[3] https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-changing-jewish-political-roadmap/

[4] https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-new-american-jewish-gilded-age-examining-wealth-anti-semitism-and-more/

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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