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News Release | Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012

[04.03.2012]

New Survey Finds Jewish Values, Identity Strongly Inform Political Beliefs, Activities of American Jews

Provides comprehensive snapshot of the 2012 political landscape in U.S. Jewish community

Washington, DC—Jewish values, particularly pursuing justice and a commitment to social equality, are important for informing political beliefs and behaviors, a new national survey of American Jews finds.

The new survey of 1,004 American Jews, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and released at a National Press Club briefing, is the most comprehensive, representative national study of its kind conducted by a non-Jewish research organization. The new survey takes a broad look at how Jewish values, experiences and identity are shaping political beliefs and behavior and influencing social action in the Jewish community and beyond.

More than eight-in-ten American Jews say that pursuing justice (84%) and caring for the widow and the orphan (80%) are somewhat or very important values that inform their political beliefs and activities. More than seven-in-ten say that tikkun olam (72%) and welcoming the stranger (72%) are important values. A majority (55%) say that seeing every person as made in the image of God is an important influence on their political beliefs and activities. Strong majorities of American Jews also cite the experience of the Holocaust, having opportunities for economic success in America, and the immigrant experience as important in shaping their political beliefs and activities.

When asked which qualities are most important to their Jewish identity, nearly half (46%) of American Jews cite a commitment to social equality, twice as many as cite support for Israel (20%) or religious observance (17%).  About one-in-ten volunteered that a sense of cultural heritage and tradition (6%) or a general set of values (3%) are most important to their Jewish identity.

“Social and economic justice is an important guide for how American Jews think about civic engagement and political participation,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “These values resonate with religious Jews as well as Jews who identify as culturally or ethnically Jewish.”

The new survey finds President Barack Obama with the same level of support (62%) among American Jewish voters as during a comparable point in the 2008 race.  Three-in-ten Jewish voters say they prefer a Republican candidate over the incumbent president. Of those who supported Obama in 2008, an overwhelming majority say they would like to see him re-elected (86%), while 7% of Jewish voters who supported him in 2008 say they instead would support a Republican candidate in 2012. Jewish voters who supported John McCain in 2008 demonstrate similar loyalty in their voting preferences, with 92% reporting that they would prefer it if a Republican candidate won the election.

The new survey also finds that Israel is relatively low on the list of voting priorities for American Jewish voters, with only 4% saying that it was the issue that would be most important to their vote. Instead, Jewish voters’ top priorities center around economic issues: the economy (51%), the growing gap between the rich and the poor (15%), and health care and the federal deficit (10%).

“There has been some speculation about possible movements toward the GOP among Jewish voters, but the current state of the race suggests that this year’s Jewish vote will resemble past elections,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “The likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, is unpopular among most Jewish voters, and the GOP’s signature campaign proposal—repealing the recent health care law—is opposed by nearly six-in-ten American Jews.”

By a margin of more than 2-to-1, the new survey finds that American Jews say good diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace (63% vs. 25% respectively). However, in the case of Iran, if diplomacy and other deterrents fail, most American Jews say they would support military action. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) agree that the U.S. should take military action to prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon if economic sanctions are unable to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, compared to 37% who disagree.

The 2012 Jewish Values Survey was conducted by Public Religion Research Institute among a random sample of 1,004 self-identified Jewish adults (ages 18 and older) who are part of the Knowledge Networks’ KnowledgePanel. Interviews were conducted online between February 23 and March 5, 2012. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is +/- 5.0 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The survey was funded by a generous grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life. 

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Read the topline questionnaire and methodology here.