Why are American Jews so Liberal?

In the current campaign season, as in all campaign seasons in this golden age of marketing, much attention is being paid to key demographic groups. “Key” in this context means two things. First, that the group in question is large enough to influence the outcome of the election. Second, that a significant portion of the group’s vote is uncommitted or weakly committed. By these measures American Jews do not really qualify, being relatively small in number (constituting just over two percent of the American population) and overwhelmingly and persistently liberal or left of center in outlook. Certainly in a close election Jews could prove crucial in a swing state such as Florida.  But that’s to say only that in a close election all groups are key

“Key,” however, can mean something else: key to understanding. And in this sense American Jews perhaps do qualify. The very ideological settledness that makes American Jews relatively unimportant numerically might provide access to liberalism’s appeal to all of its adherents, or at least to a great many of them. No, Jews are not representative of liberals altogether, and not only because there are in fact a good many Jewish conservatives: Jewish history and the Jewish American experience are particular and idiosyncratic, as are all peoples’ histories and experiences. But no group’s history and experience are simply particular. If this is so—to the extent it’s so—the case of American Jews makes for a potentially very revealing case study. Perhaps what is decisive among Jewish liberals is decisive among liberals from all backgrounds. And in any event it’s an awfully interesting case.