Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gallup poll

Don’t Blame Bibi for Decline in Democrats’ Support for Israel

Both Israeli and American pundits have spent the last month abusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about the Iranian nuclear threat. The White House’s effort to spin the speech as a breach of protocol and an unwarranted interference in a U.S. debate about Iran has largely succeeded in rallying a significant number of congressional Democrats to back away from support of the sanctions bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez, as well as getting some to threaten to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But while the speech is a blunder that has hurt the sanctions bill, the charge that Netanyahu has undermined bipartisan support for Israel is both unfair and untrue. As a new Gallup poll reveals, there is nothing new about Democrats being less likely to support Israel than Republicans.

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Both Israeli and American pundits have spent the last month abusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about the Iranian nuclear threat. The White House’s effort to spin the speech as a breach of protocol and an unwarranted interference in a U.S. debate about Iran has largely succeeded in rallying a significant number of congressional Democrats to back away from support of the sanctions bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez, as well as getting some to threaten to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But while the speech is a blunder that has hurt the sanctions bill, the charge that Netanyahu has undermined bipartisan support for Israel is both unfair and untrue. As a new Gallup poll reveals, there is nothing new about Democrats being less likely to support Israel than Republicans.

The poll, which was taken from February 8-11, just as the furor over the Netanyahu speech was gaining steam, should reassure Israelis and their American friends that the doom-and-gloom scenarios about the collapse of U.S. support for the Jewish state in what is proving to be a very difficult second presidential term for Barack Obama are, at best, overstated. The poll showed that even after the shellacking it took in the press last summer during the Gaza war and the opprobrium that has been directed at Netanyahu personally in the last month, a whopping 70 percent of Americans still view Israel favorably or mostly favorably. Considering that 72 percent gave the same answer in February 2014, it’s clear that strong public support for Israel has hardly budged in spite of a very difficult year. By contrast, only 17 percent of Americans view the Palestinians favorably or mostly favorably, a number that has declined two percent in the last year.

When the question is asked slightly differently, in terms of which side one sympathizes with–the Israelis or the Palestinians–the results aren’t much different. Since the Palestinians’ plight naturally evokes sympathy irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the conflict, you’d think the numbers would swing toward them. But that isn’t the case. The results show that 62 percent of Americans sympathize with the Israelis and 16 percent with the Palestinians. A year ago that result was 62-18 percent.

But the bad news for friends of Israel is the fact that the overwhelming backing for the Jewish state isn’t entirely bipartisan. Though both congressional parties are largely united in their approval for Israel, there is a marked difference when it comes to members of the public who identity with either the Republicans or the Democrats.

Republicans support Israel by an enormous margin with fully 83 percent of them aligning themselves with the Jewish state. By contrast, only 48 percent of Democrats are pro-Israel with independents at 59 percent.

It is true that Democratic support has dipped considerably in the last year. In 2014, 78 percent of Republicans were pro-Israel while 55 percent of Democrats viewed in favorably. That five-percent boost for the GOP and seven-percent dip for the Democrats might be attributed to the actions of Obama and Netanyahu. But before you jump to those conclusions, it’s important to put these numbers in the context of a decades-long trend that has showed a steady increase in GOP backing for Israel while Democrats have been consistently less enthusiastic about it.

In 1988, long before the current debates about Iran, disrespect for Obama, or Netanyahu’s chutzpah, only 42 percent of Democrats viewed Israel favorably while 47 percent of Republicans did so. Since then, the numbers have varied at times. But since 2001, Republican support has moved steadily upward to its current position above the 80 percent mark. At the same time, the figures for the Democrats have always lagged far behind. Though the Obama-Netanyahu dustup may have alienated some Democrats, put in the perspective of the last 25 years, it is barely a blip on the radar screen.

What causes more liberal voters who call themselves Democrats to think less well of Israel than conservatives and Republicans? That is a complex question to which there are no easy answers. Perhaps some buy in to the canard that Israel is a vestige of imperialism, rather than the expression of a national liberation movement for the Jews. It’s possible the views of Democrats are influenced more by the anti-Israel bias of the mainstream media than Republicans, who largely ignore the tilt of the press on most issues.

But whatever the reason, the lack of sympathy for Israel on the part of many Democrats is no secret. The appalling spectacle at their 2012 national convention when a clear majority of those on the floor expressed opposition to pro-Israel resolutions were being pushed through is just a tangible example of the hostility that many on the left have for Zionism. With intellectual elites in academia and the mainline Protestant churches embracing economic warfare against Israel in the form of BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—resolutions, it is little surprise that the party such groups have more influence over would see Israel in a bad light.

These numbers don’t negate the fact that a plurality of Democrats back Israel and that some of their stalwarts in the House and the Senate are its most able advocates. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who personally stood up to President Obama to object to his slanders against pro-Israel members of Congress, is just one example.

But however you want to spin it, there’s no getting around the fact that Republicans are far more likely to be pro-Israel than Democrats and that this long predates any squabbles about the Netanyahu speech. If pro-Israel Democrats don’t like the notion that the Israelis seem to be more in sync with Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner than with the president, the fault lies with their party, not the Jewish state.

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Poll: Raising Taxes on Rich Isn’t Priority

Today’s Gallup poll found that on a list of 12 voting priorities, raising taxes on the wealthy comes in last place, with 49 percent of respondents saying it’s “very” or “extremely” important.

The first five, in order, are “creating good jobs” (92 percent), “reducing corruption in federal government” (87 percent), “reducing the federal budget deficit” (86 percent), “dealing with terrorism and other international threats” (86 percent) and “ensuring the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicaid” (85 percent). Gallup concludes with this analysis:

Americans’ to-do list for the president on Jan. 20, 2013 — whether it be Obama or Romney — includes creating good jobs, reducing government corruption, and reducing the federal budget deficit. Supporters of both candidates agree about the importance of jobs and corruption, while the deficit is a higher priority for Romney supporters than Obama supporters. In turn, Obama supporters believe the next president should have healthcare, Social Security and Medicare, and public education among his highest priorities.

Job creation has certainly been and will continue to be a major topic during the remainder of the campaign. And both candidates will surely need to outline their plans for reducing the federal budget deficit. However, it is unclear whether government corruption will become a major issue in the campaign, even though Americans see reducing it as an important goal.

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Today’s Gallup poll found that on a list of 12 voting priorities, raising taxes on the wealthy comes in last place, with 49 percent of respondents saying it’s “very” or “extremely” important.

The first five, in order, are “creating good jobs” (92 percent), “reducing corruption in federal government” (87 percent), “reducing the federal budget deficit” (86 percent), “dealing with terrorism and other international threats” (86 percent) and “ensuring the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicaid” (85 percent). Gallup concludes with this analysis:

Americans’ to-do list for the president on Jan. 20, 2013 — whether it be Obama or Romney — includes creating good jobs, reducing government corruption, and reducing the federal budget deficit. Supporters of both candidates agree about the importance of jobs and corruption, while the deficit is a higher priority for Romney supporters than Obama supporters. In turn, Obama supporters believe the next president should have healthcare, Social Security and Medicare, and public education among his highest priorities.

Job creation has certainly been and will continue to be a major topic during the remainder of the campaign. And both candidates will surely need to outline their plans for reducing the federal budget deficit. However, it is unclear whether government corruption will become a major issue in the campaign, even though Americans see reducing it as an important goal.

The biggest surprise is that “reducing corruption in the federal government” ranks so high. Gallup’s March poll on voter priorities apparently didn’t include that issue in its survey on voters’ top 15 concerns. It would be interesting to know if concerns about government corruption are growing, and if so, if it has anything to do with the actions of the Obama administration. But clearly there seems to be a lot of untapped anxiety about this. The Romney campaign hasn’t spent much time hitting Obama over Fast and Furious and Solyndra, though you can bet with these poll numbers Romney is going to start. Not only is Obama’s biggest campaign issue (taxes on the rich) a nonstarter with the public, the corruption issue is untread territory that’s ripe for GOP attacks.

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Abortion and a Just Society

I wanted to add to the comments of Jonathan and Alana regarding the new Gallup poll showing that just 41 percent of Americans now say they are pro-choice (a new low) while 50 percent identify as pro-life.

In terms of the actual number of abortions in America, the figure had dropped from a national high of more than 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.21 million today, a low not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing the practice in Roe v. Wade. And as the Gallup survey suggests, America is becoming more, not less, pro-life. (A Gallup poll conducted in May 2009 found 51 percent of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42 percent “pro-choice.” This was the first time a majority of U.S. adults identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question more than 15 years ago.)

What explains both the drop in the number of abortions and the shift in public attitudes?

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I wanted to add to the comments of Jonathan and Alana regarding the new Gallup poll showing that just 41 percent of Americans now say they are pro-choice (a new low) while 50 percent identify as pro-life.

In terms of the actual number of abortions in America, the figure had dropped from a national high of more than 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.21 million today, a low not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing the practice in Roe v. Wade. And as the Gallup survey suggests, America is becoming more, not less, pro-life. (A Gallup poll conducted in May 2009 found 51 percent of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42 percent “pro-choice.” This was the first time a majority of U.S. adults identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question more than 15 years ago.)

What explains both the drop in the number of abortions and the shift in public attitudes?

There are undoubtedly several factors at play here, but one, I suspect, is that many pro-life spokesmen changed their rhetorical tactics and began to choose their fights more carefully. Throughout much of the 1990s, the debate became colored by the clear-cut issue of partial-birth abortion, which, although not settled legislatively until 2003, helped to create greater social sympathy for a moderately pro-life position. Also contributing to the rethinking was the more widespread use of sonogram technology, which enables would-be parents to see the developing child and its human form at a very early stage. All in all, not only has the public discussion of abortion been transformed, but younger Americans seem to have moved the furthest on this issue, and this trend seems likely to continue.

But the abortion debate goes beyond practicalities to fundamental issues of justice.

In medical ethics, there is a philosophical divide between utilitarianism, the belief in the greatest good for the greatest number, and the belief in the inherent human dignity of every individual. At bottom, the utilitarian approach is an assertion of the power of the strong over the weak; it treats human beings as means rather than as ends. By contrast, the belief in human dignity is rooted in the Jewish and Christian tradition of regarding the protection of innocent lives as one of the primary purposes of a just society.

Given the increasing technological control that human beings have over their own nature, this conflict has important implications for the future. A utilitarian society will be dramatically different from, and dramatically less humane than, a society that honors the principle of human dignity. We know which one will be better for the weak.

“It was once said that the moral test of government,” remarked the great liberal champion Hubert Humphrey, “is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” These are beautiful and evocative words, and they set a worthy standard for the state. Unborn children are at the dawn of life, and they deserve the protection of government. Incrementally, step by step, year by year, more and more people seem to agree.

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Abortion and the Failed War on Women

Recent polls have shown that the Democrats’ efforts to use social issues to help demonize Republicans and mobilize support for President Obama’s re-election are flopping. The gender gap between the parties is evaporating rather than getting wider, as liberals had hoped. It is in this context that the Gallup poll on attitudes toward abortion that Alana mentioned earlier must be understood. The problem for the president is not just that a clear majority of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.” As Alana and Adam Serwer have noted, a close reading of the survey shows most of those polled don’t share the opinions of many in the pro-life movement. But these findings ought to inform our understanding of attitudes about social issues in general that extend beyond the narrow choice/life dichotomy at a time when the Democrats are trying desperately to gin up fear about a Republican war on women.

The point here isn’t that most Americans take an ideological approach to this issue. As Gallup points out, since the very beginning of polling about abortion, only a minority of Americans thought it should be legal under all circumstances (currently 25 percent) with a comparable number believing it should be illegal under all circumstances (currently 20 percent). The majority of Americans are in the uncertain middle, believing it ought to be legal only under some circumstances even if many of those holding such views identify with the pro-life movement. That is why a campaign geared toward polarizing the country on social issues will not help win a general election for the candidate of either major party.

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Recent polls have shown that the Democrats’ efforts to use social issues to help demonize Republicans and mobilize support for President Obama’s re-election are flopping. The gender gap between the parties is evaporating rather than getting wider, as liberals had hoped. It is in this context that the Gallup poll on attitudes toward abortion that Alana mentioned earlier must be understood. The problem for the president is not just that a clear majority of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.” As Alana and Adam Serwer have noted, a close reading of the survey shows most of those polled don’t share the opinions of many in the pro-life movement. But these findings ought to inform our understanding of attitudes about social issues in general that extend beyond the narrow choice/life dichotomy at a time when the Democrats are trying desperately to gin up fear about a Republican war on women.

The point here isn’t that most Americans take an ideological approach to this issue. As Gallup points out, since the very beginning of polling about abortion, only a minority of Americans thought it should be legal under all circumstances (currently 25 percent) with a comparable number believing it should be illegal under all circumstances (currently 20 percent). The majority of Americans are in the uncertain middle, believing it ought to be legal only under some circumstances even if many of those holding such views identify with the pro-life movement. That is why a campaign geared toward polarizing the country on social issues will not help win a general election for the candidate of either major party.

Partisan loyalties are a good predictor of views on abortion. Though this issue cuts across most demographic groups, 72 percent of Republicans are pro-life, while 58 percent of Democrats are pro-choice. Just as important is the fact that independents are split, with the pro-life side having a 47-41 point advantage. Yet, while an appeal to social conservative views is essential for a GOP primary and the president needs to remind his own base that he shares their values and their fears about the right, it will be extremely difficult for a Democrat to win in November by seeking to demonize those who oppose abortion.

As Gallup notes in its analysis, this has implications for related issues such as the dispute between the administration and the Catholic Church about compelling religious institutions to pay for insurance on contraception even though its use violates the church’s religious beliefs. A country where the majority sympathizes with the pro-life movement is not fertile ground for an Obama re-election campaign whose goal is to draw bright lines between the differing camps on social issues.

Of course, politicians have always tended to pander to the extremes on abortion because that is where the votes are, as only those holding to absolute views on its legality have used it as a political litmus test. But a belief that an attempt to portray Republicans as out of touch with the country on social issues seems to be a partisan trap that will do nothing to help the president win independent voters even if they do not have extreme views on abortion or contraception.

The Democrats’ ability to change the subject from ObamaCare’s assault on the religious freedom of the church to outrage about Rush Limbaugh’s insult of Sandra Fluke fooled them into thinking the war on women theme could be a game-changing election issue. But Gallup’s polling provides an explanation why in the last few weeks the president has lost ground to Mitt Romney, especially with women. The question now is whether Democrats will get the message and start crafting a more effective economic message before they dig themselves a hole the president won’t be able to crawl out of.

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The Odd Discrepancy in Abortion Polling

The percentage of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” has been steadily decreasing in recent years, and this year is no exception. Gallup found that just 41 percent now say they are pro-choice – a record low – while 50 percent identify as pro-life.

But as Adam Serwer points out, that isn’t the whole story. The majority of Americans, 52 percent, still say that abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances,” which many pro-life activists would find unacceptable. From the Gallup survey:

Gallup’s longest-running measure of abortion views, established in 1975, asks Americans if abortion should be legal in all circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances. Since 2001, at least half of Americans have consistently chosen the middle position, saying abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, and the 52 percent saying this today is similar to the 50 percent in May 2011. The 25 percent currently wanting abortion to be legal in all cases and the 20 percent in favor of making it illegal in all cases are also similar to last year’s findings.

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The percentage of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” has been steadily decreasing in recent years, and this year is no exception. Gallup found that just 41 percent now say they are pro-choice – a record low – while 50 percent identify as pro-life.

But as Adam Serwer points out, that isn’t the whole story. The majority of Americans, 52 percent, still say that abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances,” which many pro-life activists would find unacceptable. From the Gallup survey:

Gallup’s longest-running measure of abortion views, established in 1975, asks Americans if abortion should be legal in all circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances. Since 2001, at least half of Americans have consistently chosen the middle position, saying abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, and the 52 percent saying this today is similar to the 50 percent in May 2011. The 25 percent currently wanting abortion to be legal in all cases and the 20 percent in favor of making it illegal in all cases are also similar to last year’s findings.

“Certain circumstances” is incredibly vague. Is it saving the life of the mother (which some pro-life activists support)? Cases of rape or incest? Allowing it during the early stages of pregnancy? Without knowing the breakdown, we can’t tell whether their views fall closer to the pro-life or the pro-choice position.

Many pro-choice activists argue that any legal restrictions on abortion are unacceptable, and that the decision should be left completely up to a woman and her doctor. If you believe life doesn’t begin until birth – or that the question of when life begins is completely subjective – then there should be no moral qualms about what happens to a fetus at any point of the pregnancy.

The fact that the majority of Americans say there should be some restrictions on abortion means they do have those moral qualms. Maybe some of them aren’t sure whether life starts at conception, but believe it does begin at some point early on in the pregnancy. Or maybe some believe life starts at conception, but that taking this life is necessary in some rare and horrible circumstances. Either way, the fact that more Americans identify as pro-life seems to be a rejection of the pro-choice movement’s nonchalant — and sometimes almost celebratory — view of abortion. The majority of Americans might support abortion in certain cases, but it’s likely to be something they grapple with morally.

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Could Gay Marriage Mean No Second Term?

President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage this past week brought with it a variety of benefits to his re-election effort. It energized his base and may well be a spur to more fundraising success, especially in Hollywood. Just as important, it engendered a chorus of unadulterated praise from the mainstream media that fits in well with the attempt to recapture the luster of his “hope and change” campaign in 2008 that hinged on the historic nature of his candidacy. The only question was whether it would cost him more votes from those who disagree than it would cause pro-gay rights voters to become supporters.

On the surface, a new Gallup poll conducted in the aftermath of the announcement seems to reassure the president’s camp that there was no danger of it harming his chances. The survey reports a clear majority of Americans — 51-45 percent — agree with him. Even more reassuring is that the decision won’t affect the votes of the vast majority, as 60 percent say it will make no difference and 13 percent assert it will make them more likely to vote for his re-election. Only 26 percent claim this will make them less likely to vote for him. But within these figures is still some very bad news for the president. The numbers show far more votes will be lost as a result of his stand than gained, especially in the center where the election will probably be decided.

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President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage this past week brought with it a variety of benefits to his re-election effort. It energized his base and may well be a spur to more fundraising success, especially in Hollywood. Just as important, it engendered a chorus of unadulterated praise from the mainstream media that fits in well with the attempt to recapture the luster of his “hope and change” campaign in 2008 that hinged on the historic nature of his candidacy. The only question was whether it would cost him more votes from those who disagree than it would cause pro-gay rights voters to become supporters.

On the surface, a new Gallup poll conducted in the aftermath of the announcement seems to reassure the president’s camp that there was no danger of it harming his chances. The survey reports a clear majority of Americans — 51-45 percent — agree with him. Even more reassuring is that the decision won’t affect the votes of the vast majority, as 60 percent say it will make no difference and 13 percent assert it will make them more likely to vote for his re-election. Only 26 percent claim this will make them less likely to vote for him. But within these figures is still some very bad news for the president. The numbers show far more votes will be lost as a result of his stand than gained, especially in the center where the election will probably be decided.

Though the headline may say most votes won’t be affected by gay marriage, one needn’t go too deep into the results to figure out that this means  twice as many voters could be lost to Obama on this issue than he would win. Even more depressing for Democrats is that independents are the most affected by the issue, with 23 percent registering less interest in voting for the president and only 11 percent with more support.

As Gallup’s own analysis concludes:

Those figures suggest Obama’s gay marriage position is likely to cost him more independent and Democratic votes than he would gain in independent and Republican votes, clearly indicating that his new position is more of a net minus than a net plus for him.

There is little doubt that Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage (he supported it as an Illinois state senator, prudently opposed it when running for the U.S. Senate and for the presidency but now endorses it) is because he believes it is vital to energize the Democrats’ base. Neither Obama nor Romney can hope to win without the enthusiasm of their party’s core, but in an election that tracking polls tell us is a virtual dead heat, any issue that has the potential to lose twice as many vital independents as it can win is a possible death blow.

As the results in the North Carolina referendum this week showed, as much as there has been a sea change in American culture on gays, there is still stiff resistance to tinkering with the traditional definition of marriage. That is especially true in swing states that Obama won in 2008 such as North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio but which are up for grabs this year.

Thus, while the president is reaping the hosannas of the mainstream liberal media and possibly raking in even more Hollywood donations, his “evolution” on the issue may wind up costing him states he can’t afford to lose in November.

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Gallup: Obama Ahead With Young Voters, But Many Aren’t Registered

The concern for President Obama has never been that he’ll lose the young vote, just that he may not win by as large of a margin as he did in 2008, and that turnout among young voters may be lower this time around. Today’s Gallup found that Obama leads Romney by 35 percent with 18 to 29-year-olds, but most of them either aren’t registered or aren’t committed to voting next November:

It’s clear at this point that Obama maintains the decisive edge when young voters are asked whom they support for president, as he did in 2008. Voters aged 18 to 29 in Gallup’s most recent five-day average, April 20-24, support Obama over Romney by 35 percentage points, 64 percent to 29 percent, and — compared with older age groups — have been disproportionately supportive of Obama since Gallup’s tracking began on April 11, albeit by differing margins. Obama’s lead is five and four percentage points, respectively, among those 30 to 49 and 50 to 64, while Romney leads by 12 points among those 65 and older. Overall, for the April 20-24 five-day period, Obama leads by six points, 49 percent to 43 percent.

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The concern for President Obama has never been that he’ll lose the young vote, just that he may not win by as large of a margin as he did in 2008, and that turnout among young voters may be lower this time around. Today’s Gallup found that Obama leads Romney by 35 percent with 18 to 29-year-olds, but most of them either aren’t registered or aren’t committed to voting next November:

It’s clear at this point that Obama maintains the decisive edge when young voters are asked whom they support for president, as he did in 2008. Voters aged 18 to 29 in Gallup’s most recent five-day average, April 20-24, support Obama over Romney by 35 percentage points, 64 percent to 29 percent, and — compared with older age groups — have been disproportionately supportive of Obama since Gallup’s tracking began on April 11, albeit by differing margins. Obama’s lead is five and four percentage points, respectively, among those 30 to 49 and 50 to 64, while Romney leads by 12 points among those 65 and older. Overall, for the April 20-24 five-day period, Obama leads by six points, 49 percent to 43 percent.

These numbers are similar to the 2008 exit polling, which showed young voters choosing Obama over John McCain, 66 percent to 32 percent. But are there any indications that turnout will be lower this year? Maybe. Back in October 2008, 78 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds told Gallup that they were registered to vote. In contrast, just 60 percent of this group is currently registered to vote, according to Gallup’s latest.

Obviously it’s still early, and the get-out-the-vote efforts haven’t really kicked off yet. But time may be on Romney’s side in some ways, as well. Young voters are less engaged politically, and it’s promising for the GOP that Romney’s support with young voters at the very start of the general election is similar to McCain’s support the month before Election Day. Romney has plenty of time to make his case to young voters and potentially siphon off support from Obama.

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