Jews, Party Identification, and Political Realignment
The recent Pew Research Center poll showing a formidable 9% change in party identification among American Jewish voters favoring the Republicans is only a harbinger of things to come. Party identification is not voting preference. Created by the authors of the political science classic The American Voter, party identification measures something more than how people vote. It measures an underlying psychological attachment to a political party. Party identification is a measure of how people identify themselves politically.
The Pew study was designed to measure how people were leaning politically, but among Jews, respondents did more than lean; they actually changed their psychological identification. This is significant not only because Jews showed the most dramatic change, but also because, apart from African American Protestants, Jews in 2008 supported Barack Obama more than any other ethno-religious group.
I see this as the beginning of a development of a critical mass that will transform the Jewish community. No, I don’t have any illusions; Jews will still overwhelmingly vote Democratic in 2012. After all, most Jews are secular and as such they are more concerned with the right to terminate a fetus than the right of six million Jewish Israelis to continue to exist. But American Jews are understanding that they are not immune to the increasing anti-Semitism of the left and its alliance with the most regressive and reprehensible political force on the planet, radical Islam. The Jewish community is beginning to comprehend that among the nations of the world only Israel is the subject of a debate over whether it has a right to exist. Criticism of Israel is no longer a discussion of policy choices, but a gossamer veil for anti-Semitism that shamelessly uses tactics right out of Joseph Goebbels’ 1934 statement on propaganda at the infamous Nuremberg rally.
Most people come to their politics the way they come to their religion. They’ve been socialized into a political belief system. They learn about politics as accepted behavior. They learn what newspapers and magazines to read, what media to watch, and what clichés they can utter among their friends for which they can receive social affirmation.
The American left might not be a religious people, but they certainly are not a godless people. They worship the god of government in the church of secularism. They believe in anthropocentric global warming, and that government can create jobs, stem inflation, and solve the problems of poverty at home and abroad. They continue to believe that the economy will be transformed by “green jobs,” although precious few have been created despite an inordinate investment of money.
They believe the previous oppressed will create a new moral order. The left refuses to comprehend that the abused are more likely to turn into abusers. When I came of age politically, colonial powers were collapsing. College professors preached the new moral order that would ensue from the rise of the Third World. A new sense of virtue would appear in the international political community because the Europeans would depart and the oppressed would replace them. Anyone who did not adhere to this ideology faced not only a bad grade but also social ostracism. Such is the conformity which the zealotry of the religion of politics demands.
And yet our professors forgot the most basic principles of the revolutionary phenomena they so venerated. They forgot Georges Daton’s immortal words: like Saturn, the revolution devours its own children. Such is the intellectual blindness of groupthink.
If you’re a conservative among liberal Jews, you find that Jewish liberals will view you as being in dire need of confinement to a reeducation camp. Everyone they know thinks as they do. Obviously, there must be something wrong with you. Their attitudes are reminiscent of Pauline Kael in her expression of shock over Richard Nixon’s presidential victory in 1972. An incredulous Kael asked how Nixon could have won when no one she knew voted for him.
Yet, beneath the surface, there has been for years a growing disenchantment among Jews with the political left. And Barack Obama’s anti-Israel policies have fueled that growth.
The 9% movement among Jews into the Republican camp means far and away more than what can be assessed by that number. It means the beginning of a critical mass so that liberal Jews will no longer be free to mouth political banalities, leftist clichés, and Democratic talking points without challenge. They will no longer be able to rely on social pressure to both stifle dissent and to promote political conformity among the vast majority of people whose political interests invariably align with what is socially palatable. They will no longer be able to be arrogant in their ignorance, because their ignorance will no longer be socially shared.
The 9% means a shifting dynamic in terms of the political dialogue within the Jewish community. That means the gathering of a force willing to challenge the leftist groupthink of Jewish communal organizations.
It is important to understand that Jews, like African Americans, were not always Democrats. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party was associated with Southern secessionism, nativism, agrarian populism, and a debased currency. The Republican Party was the party of the urban and industrial North. Then came the candidacy of Al Smith, an urban Catholic, and the realigning election of 1928, which ended the Republican hold on the Northern urban and immigrant population. This was reinforced by the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, which solidified the new immigrant and ethno-religious coalition that made the Democrats invincible until the election of the victorious general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952.
But Eisenhower’s candidacy changed voting preferences, not the psychological dynamic of party identification. With Eisenhower off the ballot, the ethno-religious coalition that Roosevelt created returned to the Democratic fold, inflating pundits’ appraisals of Kennedy’s impact on the Catholic vote. Kennedy did get a boost from Catholics but not as much as one might have thought by simply comparing Kennedy’s numbers, among Catholics, to Eisenhower’s. Catholics had defected to Eisenhower, but were still psychologically Democrats and absent Eisenhower, they were returning to their Democratic attachment. Eisenhower received Catholic votes, not Catholic party identification.
This is why the 9% figure among Jews is so important, for it speaks to party identification, not to ephemeral voting preference. It shows that Barack Obama has achieved the near impossible. He has created a psychological transformation among Jews, who will now increasingly identify -- not just vote -- as Republicans. And Obama is creating a similar phenomenon in the Catholic community, but that of course is another story.
The presidential election of 2012 might be the beginnings of a realignment of party identification. If so, Barack Obama will go down in history as the man who unraveled Franklin Roosevelt’s ethno-religious coalition.