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Partisanship and Presidential Approval Among the Jewish Population

Partisanship and Presidential Approval Among the Jewish Population

by Joseph Carroll

In September 2002, Gallup analyzed the political attitudes of the Jewish population in the United States. According to the results at the time, U.S. Jews were much more likely to be Democrats than Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation were. President George W. Bush's approval ratings among Jews also were much lower than his ratings among Protestants and Catholics, although a majority of Jews still approved of Bush. Not a whole lot has changed since then. Half of Jewish respondents still identify themselves as Democrats. Bush's approval ratings declined among Jews, but also about equally among all religious groups. A majority of Jews disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job as president.

According to Gallup estimates of religious preference, about 2% of the U.S. adult population identifies itself as Jewish, which makes it difficult to break out the opinions of Jews for analytical purposes on a poll-by-poll basis. In order to better analyze and understand Jews' opinions, Gallup has combined surveys taken across three different time points: 1) January 1992 through the end of the Clinton administration in January 2001; 2) the start of the Bush administration in February 2001 through September 2002 (when Gallup last analyzed the attitudes of the Jewish population); and 3) October 2002 through early May 2004*. The most recent aggregations, beginning in February 2001, results in samples of 300 to 400 Americans who identify themselves as Jewish.

Party Identification

Gallup has found that Jews are substantially more likely to identify themselves as Democrats than are members of any other major religious group in the country. The current aggregate shows that 50% of Jews say they are Democrats, compared with 34% who say they are independents and only 16% who say they are Republicans. These patterns have remained extremely stable since the early 1990s.

The national average for partisanship in the current aggregate is 33% Republican, 36% independent, and 31% Democrat. There is a slight tendency for more Protestants to identify themselves as Republicans than the national average and for slightly more Catholics to identify themselves as Democrats. Those with no religious affiliation are substantially more likely to identify themselves as independents. The latest results show few significant changes in partisanship among Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious preference since the last Gallup analysis on this subject.

In every poll, Gallup asks independents if they lean more toward the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. The resulting partisanship measures serve as a useful predictor of how people will vote, because partisanship is such a strong predictor of vote choice, and those who lean to one party are highly likely to also support that party. These data show Jews who identify as political independents are more likely to lean toward the Democratic Party than toward the Republican. Taken together, more than two in three Jews, 68%, either identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. Twenty-eight percent of Jews are either Republican or lean Republican, and 4% are independents with no partisan leanings. Among Protestants, the split is 51% Republican to 43% Democrat. Among Catholics, it is 43% Republican to 49% Democrat.  Americans with no religious preference tend to lean more Democratic than Republican, by 56% to 29%.

George W. Bush's Job Approval Ratings

The president's approval rating among Jews is substantially lower than it is among Protestants or Catholics. Only 39% of Jews across the time covered in this aggregate approved of Bush, while a majority, 59%, disapprove. Forty-four percent of Americans with no religious affiliation approved and 52% disapproved of Bush. Roughly 6 in 10 Americans who identify themselves as Protestant (63%) and Catholic (61%) approved of the way Bush is handling the presidency. 

Since Gallup's last analysis on religiosity and political attitudes (covering the period between February 2001 and September 2002), Bush's ratings among adults nationwide decreased 13 percentage points, from 72% to 59%, but did not drop disproportionately among any one religious group. Among Protestants, Bush approval decreased from 74% to 63%, and among Catholics, it fell from 74% to 61%. Among Jews and those with no religious affiliation, Bush's approval ratings have dropped well below 50%, from 56% to 39% among Jews and from 58% to 44% among those with no religious preference.

Bottom Line

According to the 2000 Voter News Service Election Day exit polls, 79% of Jews voted for Gore in the 2000 election, compared with only 19% who voted for Bush. There has been discussion this year that Bush might have a chance of doing better with Jewish voters given his strong pro-Israeli stance in the Middle East situation (and the war in Iraq, which some have interpreted as a bid to make that region safer for Israel in the long run). But the data reviewed in this report continue to suggest that Bush will be hard-pressed to win the votes of Jewish Americans, given their continuing strong preference for the Democratic Party as well as their majority disapproval of Bush. 

*The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with randomly selected national samples of adults, aged 18 and older, conducted from 1992 to 2002. Generally speaking, for results based on large samples of 1,000 or more, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. For results based on smaller sample sizes of 400 to 800, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 points to ±6 points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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