Commentary Magazine


Jews and Conservatives

To the Editor:

While it may be fashionable in some segments of the Jewish community to suggest a conservative shift in the political views of Jews, as Murray Friedman does in “Are American Jews Moving to the Right?” [April], the hard data of public-opinion polls and election exit polls prove that any such assertion is false.

The oft-cited Los Angeles and New York mayoral contests are poor measures. Municipal elections are not ideological, and in Los Angeles they are even nonpartisan. In the 1993 Los Angeles election, Jews voted according to their location, with those in the San Fernando Valley (about half of the Los Angeles Jewish population) going for the Republican Richard J. Riordan and those on the west side going against him. In the 1997 election, Riordan did not face any serious opposition.

In 1998, the Los Angeles Times conducted a national poll in which 46 percent of Jews identified themselves as liberals, 28 percent as moderates, and 23 percent as conservatives. In the same sample, only 12 percent identified themselves as Republicans. Exit polls from the California primary this past March revealed that Jews voted against the proposition to ban gay marriages by 76 percent—the highest margin of any ethnic group.

Mr. Friedman also cites examples of Jewish institutional movement toward the Right, but this is evidence only of the disconnection between the “country-club” class that runs Jewish organizations and the larger community that this class is supposed to represent.

Howard Welinsky
Culver City, California

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To the Editor:

My own view of American Jews coincides with Murray Friedman’s, and I would amplify only one point in his excellent article. Jews, he writes, are turned off “by such gestures as Governor Bush’s having named Jesus as his favorite philosopher,” but Vice President Al Gore has similarly asserted that, when making important decisions, he always asks himself, “What Would Jesus Do?” Perhaps Jews should be even more concerned with Gore’s comment; favoring Jesus as a philosopher, as Buch does, seems less emphatic than using him as a guide in the political arena.

Nathan Dodell
Rockville, Maryland

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Murray Friedman writes:

There is much that I agree with in Howard Welinsky’s letter, but I think my central thesis—that Jews are becoming more conservative—remains correct. The reason this is more visible at the local level than nationally is that the problems responsible for the shift, like crime and public disorder, are by and large dealt with locally. What distinguishes the new, Jewish conservatives from more right-wing types is that they continue to support a number of traditional liberal positions, as Mr. Welinsky correctly notes.

I appreciate Nathan Do-dell’s kind remarks. Perhaps more important than the fact that both Governor Bush and Vice President Gore view Jesus as their guide is that those who permit some form of traditional religion to enter their lives—whether Christian, Jewish, or some other faith—tend to be more conservative politically.

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