This paper traces the sources of the widely available standard figures for Jewish voting in American presidential elections, which have previously been only vaguely identified. The pre-polling results for 1916–1932 data turn out to be only for Manhattan, and do not take sufficient account of voting patterns in other cities and of voting for the Socialist Party. The standard figures for the 1936–1968 period do not generally correspond to national surveys taken for those elections. The figures starting in 1972 are based on one set of exit polls, but should instead combine all of the exit polls. The 1924, 1952, and 1984 data are given particular attention because the Jewish vote was thought to be realigning in those years. Revised estimates find large differences for 1924 and 1948 and provide a firmer basis for tracing trends in Jewish voting.
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The credited sources of these figures can be traced back as follows:
1. Forman (2001, 2004, p. 153) states his sources as follows:
a. “data from 1916 to 1968 are reported in Stephen Isaacs (1974),” and
b. “data from 1972 to 2000 are drawn from Voter News Service exit polls as reported in the New York Times election analysis issues.”
2. Isaacs (1974, p. 281, n. 151) identifies his sources as follows:
a. “the voting statistics are those commonly accepted by Jewish organizations,” and
b. “much of the later data is reported by Mark R. Levy and Michael S. Kramer.”
3. Levy and Kramer (1972, p. 103) give their sources as follows:
a. “National Opinion Research Center” [which conducted relevant surveys from 1944 to 1956],
b. “Angus Campbell and H. C. Cooper” [1956, which reports on a 1952 national election survey],
c. “Institute of American Research; NBC News” [which started polling in the 1960s].
Even this listing gives little information about the actual sources for the pre-exit poll era and does not indicate where Jewish organizations obtained the earlier statistics that they “commonly accepted.”
Sigelman (1991, p. 190) provided his own estimates of the Jewish vote from 1928 through 1988, identifying his sources as Lerman (1984), Penn and Schoen (1988, p. 26), and Rothenberg, Licht, and Newport (1982, pp. 20–24). Penn and Schoen give unsourced values for 1960–1984, while Rothenberg, Licht, and Newport use Isaacs’ data, but Sigelman’s Democratic vote percentages are higher for most of these elections. Sigelman explains that his values are only approximations, writing that “figures at five-point intervals represent a consensus of several sources, while those at odd intervals are compromise figures based on differing estimates,” an explanation that does not provide a replicable basis to evaluate his figures.
Burner first published the 1916 and 1920 values in Burner (1963, p. 33). Burner’s (1968) “New York City” values for 1920–1932 received notice when they were reprinted, with appropriate citation, in a popular book by Kevin Phillips (1969, p. 113). The Phillips book would have brought Burner’s work to the attention of the Jewish organizations by the time that Isaacs was writing his 1974 book. Burner’s (1968) book was later reissued (Burner 1986). Burner’s appendix (1968, pp. 253–254) shows that his New York data are solely for Manhattan, so it does not include the large Jewish population in other New York City boroughs.
Gamm (1989, p. 60) gives percentages of the Boston potential electorate who voted for each party for Jewish precincts of each of three social classes. The lower middle class precincts are used here, rather than the more Republican upper middle class precincts or the more Democratic working class precincts.
Burner’s New York data is based Walter Laidlaw’s (1922, 1932) data for 1920 and 1930, along with personal interviews conducted in sanitary districts with a Jewish population of approximately 90 %. Since religious data is not available in the census, these were districts in which the foreign-born population was primarily from Russia, but the census data shows these districts had high numbers of non-naturalized adults in 1920. His Chicago data is based on Burgess and Newcomb’s work (a 1931 book for 1920 data and a 1933 book for 1930 data) for sanitary districts with a Jewish population of 75–95 %. The 1920 ethnic data are used for the 1916–1924 elections, and 1930 ethnic data for the 1928–1932 elections.
Goren (1961) mentions that according to the 1910 census less than a fifth of the foreign-born males of voting age in a heavily Jewish congressional district in New York City were naturalized and could therefore vote at that time. By 1920, only 40 % of Russian Jews in New York City were naturalized (Kessner 1981, p. 228). Even in 1925, a random sample of 1,500 Jewish families found only 20 % on election rolls (Kessner 1981, p. 232). Most Boston Jews were not voting as late as 1932 (Gamm 1989, p. 60).
The combined Jewish population in Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia was only about three-quarters of Manhattan’s (Linfield 1927–1928), but I would argue that the Jewish vote in these three cities should be viewed as likely reflecting the vote of Jews who lived in ethnically diverse areas of New York City as well as in other parts of the country.
Medoff similarly concludes that the 1928 Hoover vote was slightly higher than the standard figure. Combining the usual 72 % with results for Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia, he obtains an overall 67 %–33 % division (Wentling and Medoff 2012, p. 20 and n. 61).
See the discussion of recall issues in surveys in Tourangeau, Rips, and Rasinski (2000).
The 90 % Democratic vote shown for 1940 and 1944 may be based on Fuchs’ (1955, p. 386) assertion that national sample surveys conducted by the AIPO (Gallup) and by the National Opinion Research Center [NORC] “show that more than 90 out of every 100 Jews voted Democratic” in those years. Fuchs cites Korchin (1948) for the “Denver” [NORC] data and the “Allinsmiths” (1948) for Gallup data, both of whom only analyzed voting in 1944. Korchin finds an 86 % Democratic vote in 1944 while Allinsmith and Allinsmith (1948, p. 384) report a 92 % Democratic vote that year according to recall in AIPO 1945–1946 surveys (see also Pope 1948, p. 88). Lubell (1951, p. 207) also asserts that 1944 presidential voting was more than 90 % Democratic in many Jewish wards.
Isaacs (1974, p. 280, n. 143) points out that, rather than selecting precincts at random, NBC News selected voting precincts where most voters were “known” to be Jewish, but some of these precincts included many non-Jewish residents who voted differently from the Jews in those precincts.
Srole and Bowers (1948) report higher Democratic voting in their analysis of 1936–1944 AIPO data than Ladd and Hadley (91 % for 1936, 89 % for 1940, and 93 % for 1944), but the Srole and Bowers figures should be regarded as partial since they excluded areas with a population of under 10,000 and excluded the South and South-Central regions.
Best practices are to use only polls conducted reasonably close to the election date, and to emphasize post-election reports more than pre-election preferences. All AIPO polls containing a religion question conducted in the November and December after the elections are used, using later polls only when no poll conducted in those months contained a religion question. When possible, a poll conducted in the October before the election is used (or two for elections in which two post-election polls are used), using earlier polls only when there was no religion question in the October poll.
The wording of the Gallup religion question changed considerably across these elections. The 1936 and 1940 questions asked about church membership, which is not appropriate wording for Jews. The 1944 question asked people who were not church members about their religious preference. The 1948–1968 polls asked “What is your religious preference: Protestant, (Roman) Catholic, or Jewish?”.
This calculation uses the usual statistical formula for the 95 % confidence interval of a proportion, increased by 30 % to take into account the larger confidence intervals suggested for cluster sampling. The margin of error is lower in 1964 (3 %).
Medoff reaches a similar conclusion about the 1950s elections, estimating the Eisenhower vote at only about 25 % (Wentling and Medoff 2012, p. 163 and n. 410). He bases this conclusion on the analysis of Jewish precincts by Rischin (1960), Fuchs (1955), and Geysenir (1958), and the JTA (1972) comparison of the 1972 Jewish vote with a 74 % vote for Stevenson in 1952 and 77 % in 1956.
Their Jewish sample sizes suggest they included state exit polls since 1988.
This composite includes a few exit polls that are available at the Roper Center but which were not utilized by the Solomon Report. However, the American Jewish Congress exit polls are not included in the averaging because it is difficult to gauge how comparable they were to network exit polls, especially since Table 5 shows that they consistently found a higher Democratic vote than the network polls. The ANES surveys were not pooled with the exit polls in this analysis because ANES interviews far fewer Jews than the large exit polls.
The margin of error for the combined exit polls is as low as 2 % for the 1980s and at most 4 % for the other years, but is 8 % in 2008 when the only national exit poll interviewed fewer than 100 Jews.
This was still a period in which the separate television networks conducted their own exit polls. As shown in Table 5, they varied minimally, giving Reagan 30–35 % of the Jewish vote.
Source: Letter by Robert M. Teeter and Frederick T. Steeper to Max Fisher and their accompanying memo “Exit Polling and the 1984 Jewish Vote, 1/18/1985, ” file “Demographics: Jews” in folder: “Mary Lukens’ Working File,” Box 130, Robert Teeter Files, Gerald R. Ford Library. See also Silberman (1985, p. 346); Friedman (1984); Hertzberg (1985).
An alternative interpretation would be that the 1910s were the beginning of a Jewish realignment toward the Democrats, with the 1920 election being just a deviation and 1924 being an unusual three-party race, returning to the realignment track in 1928 and 1932. However, that interpretation understates the importance to the 1930s realignment of the mobilization of new immigrants who were previously not voting (Gamm 1989).
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Several people have provided useful suggestions on this article, including Lawrence Baum, Steven M. Cohen, Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, Rafael Medoff, Kenneth Wald, and the anonymous reviewers of this journal. I am grateful to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research data archive and to the archivist Eric Fritzler at the American Jewish Historical Society for his help.
Appendix 1: The 1916, 1920, 1928, and 1932 Revised Estimates
The estimates for 1916 should take the Socialist vote into account. Dubofsky (1916, p. 367) finds that four Jewish assembly districts in New York cast 13–17 % of their vote for Socialist candidate Allan Benson, with an average of 14 %. Applying that 14 % for New York, the 55–45 % major-party vote division there would translate to 47 % Democrat, 39 % Republican, and 14 % Socialist. Sarna’s calculations shown in Table 2 show a 7 % Socialist vote in Boston in 1916. Averaging these New York and Boston figures suggests that the Socialists received about 10 % of the Jewish vote nationally. Applying that 10 % to Chicago, the major-party average vote ratios of Burner and Mazur of 55–45 % there would translate to 50 % Democrat, 40 % Republican, and 10 % Socialist. Finally, averaging the cities together (with Manhattan given extra weight) gives a final estimate of 50 % Democrat, 38 % Republican, and 11 % Socialist, still predominantly Democratic.
For 1920, before averaging the three cities, it is necessary to obtain a single estimate for Chicago that takes into account the Socialist vote there. A 13 % figure was used, a little above Burner’s 11 % but well below Mazur’s 28 %. Applying this value for all three Chicago datasets and then averaging gives a Chicago result of 18 % Democrat, 69 % Republican, and 13 % Socialist. Averaging the two estimates for Boston gives 16 % Democrat, 66 % Republican, and 18 % Socialist. Averaging the three cities (with New York given extra weight) gives 17 % Democrat, 67 % Republican, and 16 % Socialist.
For 1928, averaging the three Chicago estimates with the Socialist candidate getting 1 % of the vote would yield 65 % Democratic and 34 % Republican. The Socialist candidate won 3 % of the total New York vote so it is reasonable to assume that he received 5 % of their Jewish vote. The 72–28 % Democratic ratio in New York then becomes a 68 % Democrat, 27 % Republican, and 5 % Socialist vote. Boston is estimated at a 1 % Socialist vote. Averaging the four cities gives 63 % Democratic, 33 % Republican, and 4 % Socialist.
In 1932, Socialist candidate Norman Thomas won nearly 900,000 votes nationally, and Hertzberg (1989, p. 273) estimates that at least a quarter of this vote came from Jews. Phillips (1969, p. 113) claims that Jews in New York City gave 10–15 % of their vote to Socialist candidate Norman Thomas. To be conservative, I use a 10 % figure for New York and 3 % for Boston and Chicago before averaging the cities. Applying the 10 % Socialist vote to the Manhattan major-party 82–18 vote ratio, gives 74 % Democrat, 16 % Republican, and 10 % Socialist. For Chicago, applying 3 % for the Socialist vote there gives 73 % Democrat, 24 % Republican, and 3 % Socialist; applying the 3 % to Boston gives 67 % Democrat, 30 % Republican, and 3 % Socialist. The four city average, with New York being given 50 % of the weight, is then 69 % Democrat, 24 % Republican, and 7 % Socialist.
Appendix 2: The 1936–1968 Election Polls
The Gallup polls used were: 1936: pre-election poll #48 (Gallup 1972, vol. 1, p. 36); post-election #71. 1940: pre-election 219; post-election 229. 1944: pre 323; post 336, 337. 1948: pre 431; post 432. 1952: pre 506, 507; post 508, 509. 1956: pre 572, 573; post 574, 576. 1960: pre 637; post 638, 639. 1964: pre 699; post 701, 702. 1968: pre 770; post 771, 772. The 1936–1944 data used the weights for the 1936–1944 Gallup polls derived by Berinsky and Schickler (2011) to overcome quota sampling (Berinsky 2006). The Office of Public Opinion Research post-election poll #35 was also used for 1944 along with NORC post-election #230, 1948 pre 161, 1952 pre 332, and 1956 post 399 and 401. ANES results are calculated from their cumulative data file by the University of California, Berkeley’s Survey Documentation and Analysis web site http://sda.berkeley.edu. The composite values in Table 4 are averages of the values for the separate polls, which occasionally differ by 1 % from combining all of the respondents before computing the proportions voting for each party.
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Weisberg, H.F. Reconsidering Jewish Presidential Voting Statistics. Cont Jewry 32, 215–236 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-012-9093-z
- Jewish vote
- U.S. presidential elections