October 19, 2003


The Jewish Love Affair with the Democrats (Jason Maoz, October 17, 2003, JewishPress)

Surprising as it might seem from our vantage point, the Jews who came to the U.S. prior to the great waves of immigration from Eastern Europe tended to look askance at the Democratic party, which was identified in the popular mind with Tammany-style political bossism, support for slavery, and an agrarian populism that often seemed indistinguishable from the rawest

That attitude changed with the arrival of the Eastern European Jews who crowded into the big cities at the turn of the century and quickly learned that their very livelihoods were dependent on the good will of those Tammany-like political machines, which were invariably Democratic and
invariably corrupt.

Jobs and basic amenities were used as barter to purchase party loyalty, and bribery was the order of the day - the late New York senator Jacob Javits told the story of how his father loved Election Day because the saloonkeepers would pay $2 (double a day`s wages at the time) to anyone who promised to vote Democratic.

Although the dominance of the big city bosses was an inescapable fact of life for the new Jewish immigrants, the pressure to vote the party line was felt most keenly in local elections. When it came to presidential politics, Jews were far less wary of voting their conscience.

In 1916, for example, Republican candidate Charles Evan Hughes received 45 percent of the Jewish vote, and four years later Republican Warren Harding actually won a plurality among Jews - 43 percent as opposed to 19 percent for Democrat James Cox and 38 percent for Socialist Eugene V. Debs.

That last figure - nearly 4 in 10 Jews voting for the Socialist candidate - tells a story in itself, a story not to be ignored when seeking to understand Jewish voting habits. Many of the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe came to America with a passionate belief in one form or another of socialism, and those Jews tended to vote for third party left-wing candidates when offered the choice. Though their candidates were, with the exception of some local races in immigrant neighborhoods, roundly unsuccessful, Jewish socialists and communists left a seemingly indelible stamp on the collective political identity of American Jews.

Most Jews, however, whether out of political moderation or fear of wasting their vote on a long shot, cast their ballots for either Democrats or Republicans. And though the Republicans lost a significant number of votes in 1924 to the third party candidacy of Progressive Robert LaFollette, it was not until the election of 1928 that the relationship between Jews and the Democratic party became the inseparable bond that still exists nearly 75 years later.
The Affair Commences
It was in 1928 that Democratic presidential candidates first began polling landslide numbers among American Jews, as New York governor Al Smith, a Roman Catholic of immigrant stock (whose campaign manager happened to be Jewish) captured 72 percent of the Jewish vote. Despite his overwhelming Jewish support, and the equally strong backing of fellow Catholics, Smith carried only 8 states against Republican Herbert Hoover and failed to win his own home state of New York.

The nascent trend of lopsided Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidates solidified four years later when another New York governor, Franklin Roosevelt, won the votes of better than 8 in 10 American Jews. Roosevelt, whom Jews idolized more than any other politician before or since, went on to win 85 percent of the Jewish vote in 1936 and 90 percent in both 1940 and 1944.

The question really is less why the party loyalty than the rigid adherence to a far left ideology. The former simply follows from the latter. Mr. Maoz doesn't seem to have the answer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2003 5:23 PM

I can answer it- the Jewish pathology. The 2000-year-old Stockholm Syndrome that instilled in the Jews an instinctive compulsion for appeasment, accomidation and sympathy with their oppressors. A suicidal streak, in other words.

The Shoa woke them up, and created a generation that was willing to fight, they built an entire nation out of nothing, fought off five combined Arab armies three times, built a first world democracy in a few decades...

Then drowsed off again. Today the Jews are once again in danger of being murdered in their sleep, but you can't reason with these people, I've tried. If the holocaust can't wake someone up, nothing can.

Posted by: Amos at October 19, 2003 8:25 PM

My sense is that it's a combination of things. For one thing, the tendency of more educated people to be more liberal certainly seems to apply to Jews. Also, historically "conservative" movements have often been dangerous to Jews because, in the past, "conservative" often meant nativist, ethnically-restrictive, anti-intellectual, and anti-"cosmopolitan."

But in recent decades, this has changed. Now, the left has flipped and is now anti-globalization, ethnically-restrictive (i.e. "affirmative action"), and even anti-Semitism (a term coined by an anti-Semite for his movement, by the way) is now a phenomenon of the left, while it's almost gone from its traditional home on the right.

Many American Jews, though, may still think the Republican Party represents a bunch of ignorant redneck racists and uncaring rich people, and that socialism is a nice idea that just hasn't been well-applied. However, increasing numbers are realizing that the party of Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun may not really have their best interests at heart.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 20, 2003 1:25 AM

In my experience, there were Jews who voted Republican, but this was not common (though Nixon in 1972 garnered about 33% of the Jewish vote).

Jews in significant numbers did of course identify with the aims of socialism, and some went further and joined the Communist Party, at least for a time. Most Jews, I would venture to say, channeled their political beliefs into supporting the Democratic party, particularly during the presidency of FDR, whose charm was palpable, and whose make-work legislation struck a chord with the masses. In the 50s, many of these liberal Jews were avid supporters of Adlai Stevenson, and in the 60s they voted en masse for JFK and LBJ, though as the 60s wore on, some found themselves identifying more with the Henry Jackson wing of the Dem Party. And with the ascension of McGovern and the party's leftward drift, some of these came to the conclusion that the party had lost its bearings.

Leading to what has been labeled the significant "neo-con" shift.

A simple (perhaps too simple) explanation for the identification with the Dem party is that many Jews were urbanized and also strongly believed in the expansive promises that socialism made regarding improving the condition of the masses. Since many Jews at the turn of the century were part of those masses, there was a certain self-interest there. Moreover, from a religious angle, though many Jews were quite secular (so shall one call it culturally Jewish angle?), they believed that socialism was entirely consistent with the Biblical precepts to puruse justice and aid the downtrodden. Nor is this dissimilar to certain Christian predispositions. (Yes, there are ways to counter such assertions.)

At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that many Jews saw themselves as outsiders; poor, immigrant, *and* Jewish. And they believed rightly or wrongly that the Republican party was the party of the insiders, and that Republicans held a certain animus towards immigrants and minorities, particularly Jews.

However, this has been changing and will change even further; and with the Democratic party once again losing its compass, the very concept of a Jewish voting bloc may be a thing of the past.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 20, 2003 3:09 AM

The thing I liked most about this article is that there apparently was a time when a person's word was so trusted that parties would hand out significant sums of cash based solely on the promise of a vote.
Imagine handing out $100 today to people who merely had to claim that they'd voted for you.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 20, 2003 7:01 AM

The phenomenon has always puzzled me until I came to the same conclusions as Barry. Big government was a form of security/protection of minorities from the predations of a majority gone mad as in Nazi Germany; unfortunately there at the behest of a totalitarian/socialist form of government.

I think things may be changing and the people who invented capitalism may come to embrace the idea of a democratic representative form of government combined with a capitalist economy which has served them so well, rather than a utopian dream that has never worked. That will be their final stage of assimilation into the culture ... the time when their preferences reflect, in general, those of the entire population, that is undistinguishable as a bloc. I hope that will be a good thing.

Posted by: genecis at October 20, 2003 1:13 PM

I think they vote for whichever party
is least nationalist at any given time.
Clearly, the left-wing movements are inherently

They also have a strong desire to keep the majority of Americans from anything but trivial
expressions of Christianity in public life.

Posted by: J.H. at October 20, 2003 4:05 PM

Michael -- Basically, the same thing happens today among certain populations -- the elderly, blacks and union households. The Dems know that, if they can just get these people to the polls, the overwhelming majority will vote Democrat. Thus, phone banks, rides to the polling place and walking around money.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 20, 2003 10:42 PM


It was the amount, based on a pledge, that impressed me. The saloonkeepers didn't hand out free beers, they gave, reportedly, two day's wages.

A ride and a free doughnut don't compare.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 21, 2003 1:05 AM