The Public Religion Research Institute, recently in the news for its survey on Catholic attitudes toward the Obama administration’s decision to include religious institutions in its contraception mandate, today released the findings of its polling on American Jewish values: “Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012,” a report based on its recent survey of 1,004 self-identified American Jews. Here is one of the key findings highlighted by the report:
When asked which qualities are most important to their Jewish identity, nearly half (46 percent) of American Jews cite a commitment to social equality, twice as many as cite support for Israel (20 percent) or religious observance (17 percent). Fewer than 1-in-10 say that a sense of cultural heritage and tradition (6 percent) or a general set of values (3 percent) are most important to their Jewish identity.
This is a strong theme of secular liberalism running through the report, authored by PPRI’s Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox, who recently contributed an essay on President Obama for an anthology of presidents and religious influence. The organization’s surveys often focus on testing the Obama administration’s most visible narratives on policy issues. (The previous three surveys were on whether religious liberty is under attack, Americans’ opinion on economic inequality, and whether Catholics support the contraception mandate.)
“Chosen for What?” tests many of these themes among the Jewish population, with similar findings. Tikkun olam, for example, is held to be either somewhat important or very important to 72 percent of respondents. On religion, however, a full 41 percent say it is not too important or not at all important. About 18 percent of respondents said they do not believe in God.
Partisan splits account for some of the other issues polled. On health care, for example, Jewish Republicans say they would overwhelmingly support a Supreme Court decision overturning Obamacare, while Jewish Democrats favor keeping the law by about the same margin. A majority of Jewish independents would favor overturning the administration’s health care reform law.
While the poll paints a picture of a markedly liberal American Jewish community, that fact should give Obama supporters pause on certain issues. Though only 4 percent say Israel is the most important issue for them in the upcoming presidential election, Obama gets mixed reviews for his Middle East policies: “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 percent) say they disagree with the president’s policies.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets high marks, which may help explain why even many of those who agree with Obama’s Mideast policies don’t like the way he carries them out, which usually involved picking a fight with or expressing his contempt for Netanyahu. A majority (59 percent) also support the U.S. taking military action against Iran’s nuclear program if sanctions fail.
This polling institute is led by outspoken allies of, and current or former advisers to, President Obama (as Alana pointed out last month, David Saperstein is its chairman), that polled what turned out to be a mostly liberal population with very liberal answers (high support for abortion in all cases and a majority who think Israel’s “ultra-Orthodox” are too powerful and a “major problem”), and still the president can’t find broad support for his treatment of Israel.
This is a subset of the population ready to defend the president’s policies. They are, however, still waiting for a defensible Israel policy.