Election shows Jews still stick to Democratic Party

If Jews are assimilating, it didn't show up in their voting in last week's California election, according to the reliable Los Angeles Times exit poll.

Jews remained stubbornly Democratic in the governor's race. More than 80 percent voted for Democratic Party candidates, as they did in past years. Compared with Jews, twice the proportion of other whites and Asians, and the same proportion of Latinos, voted Republican.

A common belief is that as Jews become wealthier, they will inevitably become more Republican. That has happened to other religious and ethnic groups, but it hasn't happened to Jews.

Proposition 226 would have required labor unions to get permission from each of their members in order to use their fees for contributions to candidates. Jews voted against that proposition by almost a 2-1 margin, while other whites voted heavily in favor of it. A vote against that proposition was generally seen as "liberal."

The majority of Jews are not even labor union members. But the proposition was badly drafted — as most initiatives are. Many people voted against it only because it did not also require corporations to consult their shareholders before contributing to political candidates. That was no way to reform campaign contributions.

Then there was Proposition 227, which won heavily and would shift from bilingual education to a greater emphasis on immersing students in the study of English. Jews voted for it by a 55-45 margin. Asians voted for it by about the same margin and African-Americans were split. Latinos voted against it by almost a 2-1 margin.

But in previous surveys, at least two-thirds of Latinos said that the purpose of bilingual education is to teach English to their children so that they can get ahead in the society. The bottom-line question in the proposition was whether the current bilingual program or the one proposed would best serve the needs of such immigrant children. Neither liberalism nor bigotry was serious factor.

Jewish opinions on certain social issues have become markedly less "liberal," as measured by older definitions of that term. Whether it is on "law and order" issues such as capital punishment or welfare issues, Jewish opinion today it is about the same as that of the rest of the population. Last year, much like the rest of the population, seven out of 10 Jews said there should be an end to increases in welfare payments for women who give birth while on welfare.

Of course, the Democratic Party has itself largely come to support such opinions. Maybe the mistake is to automatically equate the Democratic Party with liberalism. Certainly the definition of liberalism is shifting, and maybe it is time. But with all that change, why would Jews continue to hold such loyalty to that party?

The self-interest of the Jews includes a number of other issues, such as church-state separation, which the Democratic Party is seen as supporting. Jews were concerned about the recent congressional proposal for a constitutional amendment to allow prayers in the public schools. Sometimes the Jews may be a little too frightened of multidenominational expression in public places. But the effect of this constitutional amendment would have been to flood the schools with specifically Christian prayers, and more.

Nationally, 197 Republican congressmembers voted for it, 28 against. Twenty-seven Democrats voted for it, 174 against. Many of the Republicans who voted for it really didn't think it was a good idea. But they did not want to alienate the support of hard-line Christian political associations.

One does not have to go far to understand why most Jews do not stray from the Democratic fold. In self-interest terms, at least, it shows that they have not lost all sense of being Jews — if that is any comfort.