Wednesday, July 6, 2016

More on the Trump tweet: Jews and party alignment in the US

In yesterday's post, I addressed race generally, but today, let's talk about the specific issue at the heart of Trump's six-point star on a pile of money tweet:  the peculiar place of jews in modern politics.

Jews are second only to African-Americans in their allegiance to the Democratic Party, but every four years, Republicans fantasize about peeling them off.  Republicans are ever-puzzled by their inability to do so.  Trump's tweet certainly won't help this year, but the phenomenon is more complicated.  This post is by no means complete, but since Republicans seem truly perplexed every four years that jews keep voting D, it seems worth going through the basics.

1.  The first line of reasoning always seems to be something that boils down to support for Israel.  The problem is conflating support for Israel with support for Likud.  American jews who don't align with Likud won't align with the American party that aligns with Likud.

2.  This is a strategic question.  Does the preservation of Israel come about most effectively from diplomacy or from direct military confrontation?  Likud, like the Republican Party, takes a more hawkish view of foreign policy.  However, just as many jews in Israel do not share that view, many jews in the US do not either.  It is a fallacy to assume that the Republican Party will win over US jews by branding itself as Likud-West.  Divisions exist, here as there.

3.  Much of the support within the Republican Party for Israel comes from evangelical christians, who support Israel primarily because they believe that jews must control Israel in order to bring about the second coming of Jesus.  That isn't a coalition that all jews are willing to make.

4.  To be sure, that isn't all of the Republican Party.  Many support Israel because it is, unlike Saudi Arabia, a liberal democracy, in the traditional sense (I have no interest in an argument about Israeli-Palestinian relations), but that evangelical coalition is just not one that many American jews want to make.  It is worth remembering, then, that many of the neoconservative thinkers in the Republican Party were jewish!  That's not a coincidence.  But, the evangelicals and the neoconservatives aren't the same people.

5.  While most voters have a limited set of issues about which they care, American jews are not, actually, single-issue Israel voters.  And in fact, they tend to lean left on most issues.

6.  That's not a coincidence.  Buzz-word time!  Aren't you excited?  "Religiosity!"  Sorry, that one kind of sucked.  Don't blame me, I didn't make it up.  It means, how religious are you?  The main divisions, politically speaking, are between people who are very religious, regardless of which religion, and people who are not very religious at all.  People who are very religious, regardless of religion, tend to lean right.  People who are not tend to lean left.  For whatever reason, American jews tend to be relatively irreligious, compared to protestants.  Maybe it's the convenience of cars on Saturdays, and maybe it's the intrinsic deliciousness of bacon, but whatever the reason, American jews just aren't as religious as American protestants.  That means they lean more left.

7.  Group identity.  I hit this point over, and over, and over again.  Politics, and in particular, parties are about group identity.  The article I reference repeatedly is Converse's "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics."  Converse distinguishes between five "levels of conceptualization," which are degrees of sophistication in how people think about politics.  A plurality of people fall into the middle level, according to Converse.  That middle level is group identity.  How does this policy/issue affect my group?  Parties are all about groups.  For obvious historical reasons, jews tend to identify as minorities.  As long as the Republican Party consists predominantly of white christians, it will be hard for those who see themselves primarily as minorities to see a home in the Republican Party.  Republicans will argue, out of sincere belief, that their policies are best for the country, including for minorities.  These arguments carry no weight for those who think in group terms rather than in what Converse would call "ideological" terms.

So, yes, American jews vote 'D.'  Many Republicans continue to be puzzled by this.  Cozying up to Likud won't change things.  Separating from the evangelicals is impossible.  Much of it is driven by general policy inclinations and the implications of irreligiosity (I think I coined that one!).  And at the end of the day, politics is about group identity.

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