Forward Thinking

The Shul Gap

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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President Barack Obama

Nearly 90% of Jews who never attend synagogue voted Democratic in 2008, according to a new analysis of Jewish voting patterns out this week.

That’s in sharp contrast to the less than 65% of Jews who attend synagogue at least weekly who voted Democratic that year.

Sponsored by a non-partisan group called The Solomon Project, the analysis was conducted by a Democratic pollster, an official with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and a University of Florida professor.

The study’s findings on synagogue attendance and voting patterns are in line with research showing high correlations between church attendance and support for Republicans.

The study also found that 74% of Jews voted for Obama in 2008, a slightly lower figure than the widely-cited 78%, which was based on national exit polls figures. The researchers adjusted the figure downward after examining both state-level and national exit polls

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Republicans, Polling, Democrats, Election 2012, Barack Obama

All the News on Jews' Views: Comparing 3 Polls

By J.J. Goldberg

There’s good news and bad news for President Obama in a new survey of American Jewish opinion released Thursday by the Workmen’s Circle. First, the bad news: Jewish voters favor Obama over Mitt Romney by about two to one — 59% to 27%, with 14% undecided. If undecideds follow the same 2-to-1 split, the result will be 68% to 32%. This points to a 10% drop from November 2008, when Obama got 78% of the Jewish vote, according to national exit polls at the time.   The good news is that it’s not November yet, and if you compare June 2012 to June 2008, Obama is doing considerably better now than he was then. At this point in 2008 Jews were backing Obama by only 62% to rival John McCain’s 31%, according to Gallup’s tracking poll. Obama dropped further in July 2008, to 61-34, before beginning a steady rise in August. In fact, a surge might already be discernible this year, if we compare the Workmen’s Circle survey with a similar survey released two months ago, April 3, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute for the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Will the president repeat his 2008 late-summer uptick? Hard to say. Romney isn’t likely to give him the sort of gift McCain offered when he chose the spectacularly unqualified Sarah Palin as his running-mate. On the other hand, everything else in the Workmen’s Circle poll, which was conducted by Professors Steven M. Cohen and Samuel Abrams, points to a Jewish public that remains solidly liberal. Given the starkly conservative cast of the Republican campaign so far, it seems unlikely that Romney could muster more enthusiasm among Jewish voters than the more moderate McCain did in 2008. It could be that distress over Obama’s Israel policies will lower his Jewish support, but both surveys show Israel playing very little role in Jewish voters’ thinking. In fact, Cohen’s statistical analysis of respondents’ preferences and demographic characteristics indicates that people who have strong opinions about Israel tend to show a host of other tendencies that factor as strongly if not more so into their decisions.

In some ways the Workmen’s Circle survey confirms the trends that turned up in the Cummings Foundation survey in April; in other ways the WC sample is more conservative (I’m not sure why, and I won’t speculate right now). In certain ways, both polls — and a third one, the American Jewish Committee annual survey, released April 30 — look remarkably similar. Remarkable, that is, considering that they use different methodologies, draw on different population samples and reflect a variety of sponsors’ ideologies from the upscale liberal Cummings Foundation to the grittier left-liberal Workmen’s Circle to the devoutly centrist AJC.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Workmen's Circle, Trade Unions, Republicans, Public Religion Research Institute, Professor Steven M. Cohen, President Obama, Democrats, Financial Industry, Gay Marriage, Knowledge Network, Liberal, Lunch-bucket Liberalism, Mitt Romney, Nathan Cummings Foundation, American Jewish Opinion, Conservative, American Jewish Committee, Abortion Rights

Super PAC Ready To Schlep Again

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Sarah Silverman

Armed with a $200,000 donation from a son of George Soros, the pro-Obama Jewish group that behind The Great Schlep is posed to play a major role this election cycle.

The group, called the Jewish Council for Education and Research, ran a high-profile campaign to send young Jews to lobby their grandparents to vote for Obama in 2008. Now a super PAC, the organization has raised nearly as much so far this cycle as they raised in the entire 2008 campaign.

“We were able to do a lot last time,” said Mik Moore, treasurer of the group, officially known as the Jewish Council for Education and Research. “But there was a lot we didn’t do, and we’re starting a lot earlier.”

In recent weeks, the group received a $200,000 donation from Alexander Soros, the 26-year-old son of the billionaire hedge fund magnate and progressive philanthropist George Soros. Moore said that the group hoped to raise $1 million by the end of the election cycle.

Jewish support for Democrats was high in 2008, with 78% of Jewish voters casting their ballots for Obama. Republican group have already committed significant resources to winning away some of that support, especially in key swing states like Florida. Moore’s group is part of the Democrats’ effort to push back.

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sarah silverman, obama, jewish council for education and research, great schlep, democrats

Democrats Will Not Cede Israel to Republicans

By Gal Beckerman

The Democratic National Committee has a new commercial, called “The Facts,” that seems targeted at pro-Israel voters (I didn’t say “Jewish voters” for a reason). It reminds them that they shouldn’t listen to the mud being slung at Obama for supposedly abandoning the Jewish State.

Republicans are called out for violating the tradition that holds that the “bond between the U.S. and Israel is beyond politics,” by making claims that “ignore reality” (that last quote cited from the AP). The DNC’s strongest argument is made by Bibi himself in a clip from an AIPAC appearance in which he said that the security cooperation between the two countries during Obama’s presidency is “unprecedented.” There are other points as well, like Obama’s strong opposition to the Palestinian’s statehood bid at the UN, the coordinated message on Iran, and the billions offered to bolster Israel’s defense.

But the most telling aspect of the commercial is that it exists at all. These are points that wouldn’t have to be reiterated in this way if the Republicans hadn’t been doing a good job establishing a very different narrative. The worry, on the DNC’s part, is not, I think, Jewish voters. It’s those many millions more, evangelicals and others, who see Israel as an abstract cause, theological for many, and have been affected by the simplistic and patently false claim that Obama is somehow anti-Israel. The DNC clearly thinks that the Republicans will continue making this argument as we slouch towards November.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Democrats, Iran, Israel, Netanyahu, Obama, Republicans

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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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Republicans, Liberals, Presidential Administrations, Jimmy Carter, James Gilligan, Huffington Post, Dwight Eisenhower, Democrats, Conservatives, Chris Mooney

What Would Barack Do?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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President Barack Obama

Jewish Democrats don’t have a say in who wins tonight’s Iowa’s Republican caucuses. But they do have opinions about which candidate President Obama should be pulling for.

Most hope an arch-conservative like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry takes the key contest, beating frontrunner Mitt Romney and dark horse Ron Paul.

If one of the right-wingers go on to win the nomination, he or she would presumably repel independents in the general election, leading to an easier path to reelection for Obama.

“The Jews want Obama, so presumably we want whoever Obama could most easily beat,” said Steve Rabinowitz, president of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications and a Democratic publicist. “Unless that person could actually get elected.”

Even if one of the longshots does well enough to force Romney into a tough primary fight, it might soften him up for a contest with Obama in the fall, analysts say.

“Obama supporters will be praying for [an] extreme right conservative victory in Iowa,” centrist Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf wrote in an email.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: jewish vote 2012, republican, iowa caucuses, gop, barack obama, democrats

Mideast Politics Tilt Queens to GOP. Next: Queens Tilts the Mideast

By J.J. Goldberg

The Republican upset victory in the Brooklyn-Queens special election to replace ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner is obviously bad news for Democrats. But it has more far-reaching ramifications, most of them bad, according to this take by Haaretz’s new New York bureau chief, former CNN commentator and onetime Forward Jerusalem correspondent Chemi Shalev.

Shalev thinks there are plenty of reasons for Democrat David Weprin’s loss, including anger at Obama over the miserable economy and especially the influence of social issues among the district’s many conservative Catholics and Orthodox Jews. But Republicans are certain to package it big time the way former mayor Ed Koch pitched it, as a “message” to President Obama about his policies toward Israel. (Here’s what the Republican Jewish Coalition is saying the morning after.) And that could cause a heap of very real collateral trouble, Shalev says.

For one thing, there’s going to be a negative impact on Jews and pro-Israel advocacy within the larger American body politic.

Emboldened by their astonishing achievement in a district held by the rival Democrats throughout the past 88 years, the Republicans are bound to try and exploit their newly-found “wedge issue” in order to pry the proverbial “Jewish vote” away from its historic Democratic tilt. In the process, many Jewish leaders fear, the Republicans may irreparably erode the bedrock of bipartisanship that has characterized U.S. support for Israel for many decades. And by appealing to the Jews to “vote Israel” at the expense of all other considerations, they maintain, the Republicans may also be lending credence, albeit inadvertently, to the age-old canard of “dual loyalty” leveled at American Jews by their detractors.

Beyond that, it’s likely to increase tensions in the Middle East. Here’s where Shalev, for years one of Israel’s most respected diplomatic writers, gets most subtle and alarming:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Village Voice, The Advocate, Special Election, Same Sex Marriage, Robert Turner, Republicans, Politico, Modern Orthodox, Middle East Tensions, Julie Bolcer, Jewish Vote, Haredi, Haaretz, Family Research Council, Democrats, David Weprin, Chemi Shalev, Ben Smith, Anti-Semitism

Shock and Irony: Poll Shows GOP Leading Dems for Weiner's Seat

By J.J. Goldberg

Shock now, irony later: The latest Siena poll shows Republican businessman Robert Turner leading Democratic state assemblyman David Weprin in the race to succeed Anthony Weiner in New York’s 9th Congressional District by a healthy 50%-44% margin.

The poll’s religious breakdown shows the Republican winning on the strength of a hefty Catholic showing, despite Jewish support for the Democrat. Catholic respondents favored Turner 62% to 33%, while Jewish voters backed Weprin 51% to 45%. (The poll questioned 886 respondents; the margin of error was 3.3%.)

The irony is that a Republican win will surely be trumpeted around the world as a Likud victory and evidence that Obama’s Middle East policies have done the unthinkable and shattered the century-old marriage of Jewish voters and the Democratic Party. Here’s CNN setting the stage for that trope August 10 in a report on the last Siena poll:

In one of the most Jewish districts in the country, Democrats have struggled to hold a wide lead as the campaign has turned into a competition over who’s a better friend of Israel.

While Weprin would be the only Orthodox Jew in the House of Representatives if elected, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch stirred controversy by endorsing Turner. Koch hoped his move would send a message to the White House that Jewish Americans are displeased with President Barack Obama’s policies on Israel.

Still, it’s a big-time “poll shocker,” as Politico.com aptly called it. Actually, that understates the case. The Democrats’ upstate upset victory last May 24 in the special election to replace Rep. Chris Lee was a shocker. A Republican victory in the heart of the Democrats’ home turf in Queens and Brooklyn might end up looking more like an earthquake. The Democrats own New York City. If they can lose in the boroughs, they’re reduced to fighting their way back from their last stronghold on the Upper West Side, like the forces of Middle Earth in their last stronghold in Gondor or the Israel Labor Party fighting to hold onto Givatayim.

The religious breakdown in the August poll showed Weprin doing slightly better in both groups: Turner led among Catholics by 55% to 37% and Weprin led among Jews 56% to 35%. Weprin was ahead overall at the point by 48% to 42% (501 likely voters polled, with a 4.4% margin of error).

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Anthony Weiner, David Weprin, Democrats, Ed Koch, Givatayim, Gondor, Israel Labor Party, Jewish Vote, Lord of the Rings, Republicans, Robert Turner, Siena Poll, Special Election

Debt Ceiling: How Jewish Lawmakers Voted

By J.J. Goldberg

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Eric Cantor: A Yes Vote

House of Representatives: Of 25 Jewish members, 16 voted Yes on the final debt ceiling compromise and nine voted No. (Democratic votes overall: 95 Yes, 95 No.)

Yes. Democrats: Shelley Berkley (Nev.), Howard Berman (Cal.), David Cicilline (R.I.), Susan Davis (Cal.), Ted Deutch (Fla.), Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), Steve Israel (N.Y.), Sander Levin (Mich.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Jared Polis (Colo.), Steve Rothman (N.J.), Adam Schiff (Cal.), Brad Sherman (Cal.), Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (Fla.). Republicans: Eric Cantor (Va.)

No. Democrats: Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Eliot Engel (N.Y.), Bob Filner (Cal.), Barney Frank (Mass.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Henry Waxman (Cal.), John Yarmuth (Ky.).

Senate: Of 12 Jewish members, 10 voted Yes and two voted No. (Democratic votes overall: 45 Yes, 6 No. The two Independents split.)

Yes. Democrats: Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Barbara Boxer (Cal.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Dianne Feinstein (Cal.), Al Franken (Minn.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.). Independent: Joseph Lieberman (Conn.)

No. Democrat: Frank Lautenberg (N.J.). Independent: Bernie Sanders (Vt.)

I know some of you are going to ask why bother making such a list, so let’s get it out of the way: No, it’s not antisemitism, obsessive ethnocentrism or atavistic parochialism. What it is, is one of the metrics that help us gauge the current condition of Jews and Judaism in the world.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Republicans, Jewish Members, Independents, Democrats, Debt Ceiling, Congress

'Zombie Liberalism': Standing Up for Minorities, Losing Sight of the Majority?

By J.J. Goldberg

The Washington Post has a useful news analysis that looks at the New York State gay marriage decision and what it says about the state of liberalism. The headline says it all: “The rise of zombie liberalism: Half-dead, half-alive. “

The basic premise isn’t terribly new, but it’s too often forgotten: the liberalism of “Expanding civil rights and the retreat of discrimination on race, gender and now sexual orientation” is doing great. But “Income inequality has soared to levels not seen since the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties, anti-tax orthodoxy is ascendant on the right, the safety net is under attack, and labor unions are barely hanging on.”

If the country is becoming more liberal on accepting minority rights, why is the left having such a hard time making progress on its bread-and-butter issues of class and economics, which were once its central, animating concerns?

It’s a critical question. While focusing on the civil rights of minorities, liberals and Democrats have lost their voice on the economic rights of the majority. Minority rights are a noble cause, but majorities win elections.

The writer, Post national reporter Alec McGillis, walks through a variety of explanations without taking a stand. One candidate: Americans’ native self-reliance, which favors individual rights but recoils at communal responsibility. Another candidate: the identity politics of the 1970s, which led to a decline of class in the attention of liberals — as a result of which “they were just less attentive to issues of economics,” in the words of John Russo, co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University.

Sobering thoughts indeed, until you come to this conversation-stopper:

Of course, New Deal-style economic liberals note that polls show even greater public support for liberal planks such as raising taxes on the wealthy than for gay marriage, which recently crept above 50 percent in Gallup’s survey. According to Gallup, 59 percent of Americans say upper-income people pay too little in taxes, and 67 percent say corporations pay too little — which helps explain President Obama’s singling out of tax breaks for billionaires at his press conference this past week. The success of the liberal agenda, from this perspective, is less about where public opinion is than where the money is.

Gay rights proponents in New York had the backing of some very wealthy Wall Street donors who normally support Republican causes but who gave $1 million for the same-sex marriage push, motivated by their libertarian leanings and, in some cases, by the fact that members of their families are gay. When they are not cutting checks for gay marriage, these men are leading the way in opposing higher taxes on the very wealthy and fighting tougher financial regulations, with resources far beyond what organized labor can muster…

We could stop there. But McGillis gets into some identity-group politics that complicates the issue in some very interesting ways:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Catholics, Civil Rights, Democrats, Economic Justice, Gay Marriage, Liberalism, Wall Street




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