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The Choosing People: Interpreting the Puzzling Politics of American Jewry

  • Kenneth D. Wald (a1)

The political liberalism of American Jews is puzzling because it contradicts the assumption that economic self-interest drives political behavior. Attempts to solve this puzzle with “Judaic” explanations compound the problem by offering theories that are static and universal while American Jewish political behavior is dynamic and situational. Using both historical and behavioral data, I argue that the solution to these puzzles is found in the overriding concern of American Jews with maintaining their equal citizenship in a society with a classic liberal regime of religion and state. This situational model also helps integrate work on Jewish political studies with theories and concepts commonly used by political scientists to explain mass political behavior.

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Address correspondence and reprint request to: Kenneth D. Wald, Department of Political Science, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117325, Gainesville, FL 32611-7325. E-mail:
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The title of this paper, first used by Asher Arian in a 1973 book about Israeli politics, is meant as a tribute to one of the pioneers of Jewish political studies. I am grateful for comments, suggestions, and insights of my colleagues in the 2011–2012 fellowship group at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Michigan. I also appreciate the input of various audiences, academic and non-academic, to whom some of these arguments have been presented in various talks and seminars. A much earlier version of this paper is posted in the Guiding Papers series of the American Religion Data Archives (

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Louis Bolce , and Gerald De Maio . 1999. “The Anti-Christian Fundamentalist Factor in Contemporary Politics.” Public Opinion Quarterly 63: 508542.

Martin Edelman . 2000. “A Portion of Animosity: The Politics of the Disestablishment of Religion in Israel.” Israel Studies 5: 204227.

Alan Fisher . 1979. “Realignment of the Jewish Vote.” Political Science Quarterly 94: 97116.

James M. Glaser 1997. “Toward an Explanation of the Racial Liberalism of American Jews.” Political Research Quarterly 50: 437458.

Daniel Ho , Kosuke Imai , Gary King , and Elizabeth A. Stuart . 2011. “Matchit: Nonparametric Preprocessing for Parametric Causal Inference.” Journal of Statistical Software (Accessed on October 1, 2014).

Gregg Ivers . 1990. “Organized Religion and the Supreme Court.” Journal of Church & State 32: 775794.

Giedo Jansen , Geoffrey Evans , and Nan Dirk De Graaf . 2013. “Class Voting and Left-Right Party Positions: A Comparative Study of 15 Western Democracies, 1960–2005.” Social Science Research 42: 376400.

Laurence A. Kotler-Berkowitz 2002. “Social Cleavages and Political Divisions: A Comparative Analysis of British, American and South African Jews in the 1990s.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 1: 204233.

Michael P. Kramer 2003. “Beginnings and Ends: The Origins of Jewish American Literary History.” In Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature, eds. Hana Wirth-Nesher and Michael P. Kramer . New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1230.

Samuel Rabinove . 1990. “How — and Why — American Jews Have Contended for Religious Freedom: The Requirements and Limits of Civility.” Journal of Law and Religion 8: 131152.

Yossi Shain . 2000. “American Jews and the Construction of Israel's Jewish Identity.” Diasporas 9: 163201.

Rogers M. Smith 1988. “The ‘American Creed’ and American Identity: The Limits of Liberal Citizenship in the United States.” The Western Political Quarterly 41: 225251.

Herbert F. Weisberg 2012. “Reconsidering Jewish Presidential Voting Statistics.” Contemporary Jewry 32: 215236.

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Politics and Religion
  • ISSN: 1755-0483
  • EISSN: 1755-0491
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-religion
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