Study finds 80% of Reform clergy are Democrats

Yale study finds that vast majority of Reform and Conservative clergy in US affiliate as Democrats, while 40% of Orthodox rabbis do.

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JTA - The vast majority of Reform and Conservative clergy affiliate as Democrats, according to a new study.

The study, published Sunday by Yale University, found that more than 80 percent of Reform clergy, and about 70 percent of Conservative, affiliate as Democrats. Both were among the top five most Democratic clergy of the Jewish and Christian denominations in the United States, with Reform topping the list.

Among Orthodox rabbis, nearly 40 percent identify as Democrats and a quarter as Republicans, with the rest not registered as members of a specific party.

By contrast, Evangelical pastors are almost all Republicans, as are most Baptists. The Black Protestant African Methodist Episcopal clergy, as well as Unitarians, are heavily Democratic. Catholic priests are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

The study’s findings reflect existing data on the politics of American Jews. Solid majorities of American Jews consistently vote for Democrats — 70 percent voted for Hillary Clinton in the November presidential race — with polls showing that Orthodox Jews are more likely to vote Republican. Reform Jews and their clergy have been on the front lines of protests against President Donald Trump.

Orthodox Jews make up about 10 percent of the American Jewish population, various studies show, although that is increasing. One-third, or 35 percent, of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement, 18 percent identify with Conservative Judaism, 6 percent with other movements and 30 percent with no denomination, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Yale study also shows that clergymen’s political views track with congregants’ views on policy. For example, 40 percent of Orthodox rabbis are Democrats, and some 40 percent of Orthodox congregants are pro-choice, while about 30 percent of congregants believe gays and lesbians should be legally allowed to marry. Likewise, large majorities of Conservative and Reform leaders are Democrats, and large majorities of their congregants are pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.

Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA earlier this year that in his opinion, generally liberal politics in Reform clergy are a reflection of their Jewish values.

“The idea of Jewish spiritual community being about feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless, caring for the stranger — these are fundamental core pieces,” Jacobs said in January. “If we don’t talk about those things in our religious communities, we’re irrelevant.”

Orthodox Jews also cite Jewish values in explaining their support for Republicans, noting a preference for the GOP on Israel and conservative support for school choice programs and religious exemptions for various government mandates.