What You Need to Know: The American Jewish Community
Identity, Politics and Religion
I. HOLIDAYS AND SYNAGOGUES
Importance of Jewish Holidays. When asked about the most important Jewish holiday to them personally, a plurality (43%) of Jews named Yom Kippur, followed by Passover (25%), Hanukkah (10%), and Rosh Hashanah (10%). There are significant generational differences in opinion about the most important holidays. Younger Jewish Americans are less likely than older Jewish Americans to say that Yom Kippur is the most important Jewish holiday (37% vs. 53%, respectively) and are more likely than older Jewish Americans to say that Hanukkah is the most important Jewish holiday (20% vs. 6%, respectively).
Synagogues and Public Activities. There is strong agreement among American Jews about the types of activities in which synagogues should be engaged.
- There is near unanimity (96%) in the belief that synagogues should be involved in acts of charity.
- At least three-quarters (76%) of American Jews also agree that synagogues should be engaged in public policy advocacy to address social problems.
- More than 7-in-10 (71%) say synagogues should not be involved in supporting political campaigns or candidates.
II. JEWISH VALUES, EXPERIENCES, AND IDENTITY
The Influence of Jewish Values on Political Activity. At least 8-in-10 American Jews say that pursuing justice (84%) and caring for the widow and the orphan (80%) are somewhat or very important values that shape their political beliefs and activity.
- More than 7-in-10 also say that tikkun olam, healing the world (72%), and welcoming the stranger (72%) are somewhat or very important values.
- A majority (55%) say seeing every person as made in the image of God is somewhat or very important in informing their political beliefs and activity.
The Influence of Jewish Experiences and Political Activity. More than 8-in-10 Jews say that the experiences of the Holocaust (87%) and having opportunities for economic success in America (85%) are somewhat or very important for informing their political beliefs and activity. Seven-in-ten (70%) Jews cite the immigrant experience in America, and approximately two-thirds (66%) say that being a religious minority in America has a somewhat or very important influence on their political beliefs and activity.
Core Qualities of Jewish Identity. When asked which qualities are most important to their Jewish identity, nearly half (46%) of American Jews cite a commitment to social equality, twice as many as cite support for Israel (20%) or religious observance (17%). Less than 1-in-10 say that a sense of cultural heritage and tradition (6%) or a general set of values (3%) are most important to their Jewish identity.
III. VOTING AND DOMESTIC POLITICS
Voting. In the 2012 presidential election, nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Jewish Americans reported that they voted for Barack Obama. Three-in-ten (30%) Jewish Americans said they voted for Mitt Romney. [CNN exit polls]
Party Affiliation. Seven-in-ten American Jewish voters identify with (50%) or lean toward (20%) the Democratic Party, compared to approximately 3-in-10 who identify with (13%) or lean toward (16%) the Republican Party.
- Most (67%) Jewish Americans agree that the immigration system should deal with immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally by allowing them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements. Less than 1-in-5 believe they should be allowed to become permanent residents but not citizens (18%), or that they should be identified and deported (13%). [PRRI/Brookings, March 2013]
- A solid majority (57%) of Jewish Americans agree that the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society, while 32% disagree, saying that these newcomers threaten traditional American values.
- Similarly, 7-in-10 (70%) Jewish Americans favor the basic tenets of the DREAM Act: allowing illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college. More than one-quarter (29%) of Jewish Americans are opposed.
Economic Opportunity and Inequality. American Jews are neither anti-wealth nor anti-Wall Street, but overall nearly three-quarters (73%) say that the U.S. economic system unfairly favors the wealthy.
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of American Jews agree that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, while roughly one-third (35%) disagree.
- More than 8-in-10 (81%) favor increasing the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year, compared to 17% who oppose this policy.
Abortion. More than 9-in-10 (93%) Jewish Americans agree that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 7% disagree, saying that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
Same-sex Marriage. More than 8-in-10 (81%) Jewish Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while 18% are opposed.
Environment. Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Jewish Americans support tougher laws and regulations to protect the environment even if it raises prices or costs jobs, while 30% are opposed.
Attitudes toward American Muslims. Two-thirds (66%) of American Jews agree that American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the United States, compared to 32% who disagree. Similarly, only about 1-in-5 (22%) American Jews believe that American Muslims ultimately want to establish Shariah or Islamic law as the law of the land in the United States, compared to 76% who disagree.
IV. FOREIGN POLICY
Diplomacy and Military Action. By a margin of more than two-to-one, American Jews say that good diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace (63% vs. 24%, respectively). In the case of Iran, if diplomacy and other deterrents fail, most American Jews support military action. Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) American Jews agree that the United States should take military action to prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon if economic sanctions are unable to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, compared to 37% who disagree.
Problems for Israel. More than 8-in-10 American Jews rank the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (90%) and Iran’s nuclear program (83%) as major problems within Israel. A majority (53%) of American Jews also agree that Ultra-Orthodox control of religious life in Israel is a major problem, while less than 4-in-10 (38%) cite economic and social inequality in Israel as a major problem.
Relations between Israel and the United States. A majority (54%) of American Jews say that relations between Israel and the United States are about the same as they have been in the past, while 7% say they are better, and 37% say they are worse.
The Arab-Israeli Conflict. When asked to describe their opinions about President Obama’s handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict, American Jews are divided. Twenty percent report that they agree with the president’s policies and that they like the way he is executing these policies. Fifteen percent say that they agree with the president’s policies but don’t like the way he is executing these policies. About 3-in-10 (28%) say they disagree with the president’s policies.
- Notably, more than one-third (36%) of American Jews say they are not sure about their opinion of how President Obama is handling the Arab-Israeli conflict.
- A slim majority (53%) of American Jews say that, generally speaking, they would support the establishment of a Palestinian state, while 42% say they would be opposed.
Sources: Unless otherwise noted, all findings are derived from the 2012 Jewish Values Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), March 2012 (N=1,004 Jewish American adults). Full results of the survey can be found here: http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/04/jewish-values-in-2012/