American Jewish Liberalism: Unravelling the Strands

By Steven M. Cohen, Charles S. Liebman

Oxford University Press, Fall 1997

Researchers have advanced several explanations for the liberalism of American Jews. Two of them--"universalized compassion" and "argumentative individualism"--posit the impact of values attributed to the Jewish tradition. Other theories focus on "historical circumstance," "minority group interests," and "religious modernism." To examine these five theories, the author analyzes General Social Surveys from 1972 to 1994, amalgamated so as to obtain a sufficient number of Jewish respondents. Their findings show that Jews are, indeed, substantially more liberal than non-Jews in almost all issue-areas. However, after socio-demographic and other controls are introduced, substantial gaps between Jews and others remain in four areas: political self-identification (as Democrats and liberals), church-state separation (school prayer), social codes (largely issues relating to sex), and domestic spending. In contrast, Jews are not particularly liberal with respect to civil liberties, government intervention for the poor and ill, sympathy with African-Americans, or opposition to capital punishment. In addition, and contrary to the expectations of the "argumentative individualism" explanation, Jews with intermediate levels of attendance at religious services are not particularly liberal. None of the results support the two explanations based on traditional Judaic values, however, the three other explanations help explain Jewish liberalism in those discrete issue-areas where Jews are indeed particularly liberal.

Topic: Liberalism, Political Behavior, Survey, Social Issues, Demography, Politics, Values, Interfaith Relations

Name of Publication: Public Opinion Quarterly

Volume/Issue: Vol. 61/No. 3

Page Number(s): 405-430

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Genre: Scholarly Journal

Coverage: United States

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Author

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Cohen, Steven M. Liebman, Charles S. American Jewish Liberalism: Unravelling the Strands. Public Opinion Quarterly. Oxford University Press. Fall 1997: 405-430.


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