Forward Thinking

Are New York Jews Abandoning Obama?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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President Barack Obama

New York’s Jews aren’t overwhelmingly pro-Obama.

That’s one finding in a poll released last week by Siena College, and backed up by months of similar reports from the same organization.

The monthly survey of New York State voters breaks out the Jewish vote from the non-Jewish vote. The sample size of Jews is small, fewer than 100 in each poll, so fluctuations in responses from Jews don’t mean much. But while Jews do say they plan to vote for Obama over Romney — by 51% to 43% in the June poll — they don’t seem to support him in numbers much greater than the general population.

In June, 51% of Jews said they would vote Obama over Romney compared to 59% in the general population. In May, 62% of Jews said they would vote Obama over Romney compared to 57% of the general population. In April, 50% of Jews said they would vote for Obama over Romney compared to 60% of the general population.

Again, the month-to-month fluctuations are likely insignificant here. What’s notable is that Obama doesn’t seem to be doing any better among Jews in New York than among non-Jews. That’s surprising on its face, given that New York Jews have long been defined by a reputation for liberalism.

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How Biology, Psychology Dictate Political Beliefs

By J.J. Goldberg

I’m not quite sure where this sort of thing takes us, but I’m noticing a growing amount of chatter on the Web about scientific research into the nature of the conservative mind. The general tone seems to be one of wondering what flaws in one’s physical makeup lead to political conservatism. It could be just a sophisticated liberal version of old-fashioned name-calling, but some of the research seems pretty impressive.

Chris Mooney, author of “The Republican War on Science,” blogged yesterday on Huffington Post about a recent study, conducted at the political physiology laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, that points to biological factors linked to liberal and conservative beliefs. A key test involves differing physiological responses to potentially threatening images. Conservatives tend to show more intense defensive responses to images of mayhem or danger, indicating stronger fight-or-flight instincts. By contrast, liberals show stronger pleasure responses to potentially pleasing images like bunnies and smiling children. The researchers conclude that conservatism tends attract people who display greater alarm in the face of perceived threats, while liberalism attracts people whose makeup inclines them to try and adapt to change rather than fight or flee. One result, Mooney writes, is that conservatives bring greater intensity to their politics than liberals do, giving them an advantage in swaying the center.

The differences are linked to evolutionary development of human behavior, if you believe in evolution. Mooney also links to an earlier post in which he walks us through a batch of other recent studies into biological roots of liberal and conservative attitudes.

Then there’s the study published last month in the journal Psychological Science finding that, to be blunt, conservative beliefs are associated with lower intelligence as measured in standard intelligence tests. The study itself is very dense reading, but the magazine Live Science carried a very accessible writeup last month, and Britain’s conservative-leaning Daily Mail had a strikingly unskeptical report on it yesterday.

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