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Sorry, President Trump. Here’s why American Jews aren’t abandoning the Democratic Party.

These three factors mean a “Jexodus” is unlikely any time soon.

- March 21, 2019

President Trump has recently encouraged Jewish Americans to eschew their long-standing affiliation with the Democratic Party — a movement he and others refer to as “Jexodus.” He tweeted out claims that Jews are now leaving the Democrats over the party’s position on Israel.

The president then cited his administration’s pro-Israeli policies of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear accords and moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as reasons Jewish Americans should switch to the Republican Party.

Yet as several commentators noted, there is no evidence whatsoever that there’s a Jexodus underway. Three factors, in particular, make it highly unlikely that such a mass shift will occur any time soon.

Here’s the background

American Jews have consistently identified with the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by a 2-to-1 margin in Pew Research Center Surveys conducted from 1994 to 2018.

In fact, Democrats appeared to increase their electoral advantage among Americans Jews in the 2018 midterm elections. According to the exit polls, Democrats won 82 percent of the two-party Jewish vote for the House of Representatives in 2018, compared with 73 percent in 2016 and 67 percent in 2014. There was also an uptick in Jewish support for 2018 Democratic candidates for the House in the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) — a huge academic survey that interviewed over 1,000 Jewish voters in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

So what are the key factors making it extremely unlikely that Jews will leave the Democratic Party en masse?

1. American Jews are more divided over Israel than Trump thinks

By Trump’s account, Jewish Americans should leave the Democratic Party because the GOP has become the more pro-Israel party. Political science research, however, shows that Americans rarely change their long-standing partisan preferences based on their opinions about a single issue.

Even if they did, American Jews are much more divided over Israel than the president thinks. Only 30 percent said they were very attached to Israel in a 2013 Pew Survey of 3,475 Jewish Americans. In the same Pew survey of U.S. Jews, 89 percent said that you can be both Jewish and strongly critical of Israel, and just 38 percent thought that the “Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians.”

Nor is American Jewish opinion squarely behind the two ostensibly pro-Israeli policies that Trump cites as reasons Jews should leave the Democratic Party: withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Source: 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study
Source: 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study

In the figure above, you can see on the left that only 38 percent of Jewish Americans supported withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal in the 2018 CCES. Meanwhile, the right-hand side shows that Jewish Americans were evenly divided on the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Moreover, most Jews who support moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem aren’t Democrats. Only around one-third of Jewish Democrats supported the policy. There simply are not that many Jewish Democrats to pick off with even a relatively popular policy like recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In fact, the display shows that American Jews are actually significantly less supportive of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem than Protestants and Catholics. The Trump administration’s pro-Israel policies are certainly not enough to win over Jewish voters.

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2. American Jews have liberal views about immigration

While Americans rarely change their partisan attachments over a single issue, party identification has become more polarized over racial and immigration issues during Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s presidencies. The growing importance of immigration in partisan politics does not bode well for hopes of a mass Jewish exodus from the Democratic Party.

As Matthew Yglesias asserted, “Jewish values and Jewish identity are tied up with openness and pluralism in a way that makes the GOP a very hard sell.” Indeed, those values are reflected in Jewish Americans’ liberal views about immigration.

Source: 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study
Source: 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study

The figure above shows that there’s little Jewish support for the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies. At least two-thirds of Jews in the 2018 CCES opposed cutting legal immigration in half; funding the border wall; defunding police departments that do not report undocumented immigrants; and banning immigrants from counties including Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya.

The display further shows that American Jews’ positions on immigration are much more liberal than those of Catholics and Protestants. It’s hard to see Jewish Americans leaving the Democratic Party, then, in favor of a Republican Party that has become increasingly defined by its opposition to immigration.

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3. Most American Jews of all ages strongly disapprove of Trump

It’s also hard to see Jewish Americans increasingly align with a Republican Party led by Trump. A new book by political scientist Gary Jacobson shows that some Americans change parties based on how they feel about the president — especially young people whose partisan attachments are more in flux than their older counterparts.

This is bad news for Republicans who hope to win over Jewish voters — because most American Jews strongly disapprove of Trump. In both 2018 Gallup surveys and the 2018 CCES, roughly 70 percent of Jews disapproved of his job performance as president. The CCES data further show that 63 percent of Jewish Americans strongly disapprove of Trump, compared with only 17 percent who strongly approve.

Across all age groups, more than 60 percent of Jews strongly disapproved of Trump. For those under 30, whom Republicans would need at the vanguard of any future Jexodus from the Democratic Party, 63 percent strongly disapprove of Trump; only 11 percent strongly approve.

Of course, it’s not surprising that an anti-immigrant president, who proposed banning a religious minority from entering the country and has a long history of trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes, would be unpopular with Jewish Americans. It is surprising, though, that the Jexodus movement thinks American Jews will overlook that and join Trump’s Republican Party because of its pro-Israel policies.

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