Study: Orthodox Jews increasingly identify as Republicans

Percentage of American Orthodox Jews who identify as Republican surges, with Orthodox Jews giving Trump high marks as president.

Shira Hanau, JTA ,

Jews in Brooklyn
Jews in Brooklyn
Flash 90

Among the findings of the Pew Research Center’s new survey of American Jews is one that has become increasingly self-evident in recent years: Orthodox Jews in the U.S. overwhelmingly affiliate with the Republican Party.

According to the newest study, 75% of Orthodox Jews surveyed said they were Republicans or leaned Republican. In 2013, the last year in which Pew conducted a survey of American Jews, 57% of Orthodox Jews said they were Republicans or leaned Republican.

The Pew survey was conducted between Nov. 19, 2019 and June 3, 2020, a period of dramatic polarization across America in the leadup to the 2020 presidential election. It found a large political polarization by denomination in American Jewry: Among all Jews, 71% are or lean Democratic, and 26% identify more with Republicans.

While Orthodox Jews have been moving rightward politically for years, the data from Pew suggest that politically progressive Orthodox Jews are not just outnumbered but are a shrinking minority within their communities. And it demonstrates the strikingly different ways that Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews viewed Donald Trump’s presidency.

While non-Orthodox Jews largely disapproved of Trump’s handling of nearly every aspect of the role, Orthodox Jews were the only ones to overwhelmingly approve of his job performance, particularly on Israel. Among Orthodox Jews, 86% rated Trump’s handling of policy on Israel as “excellent” or “good,” compared to 40% overall of respondents who rated his handling of Israel policy as good or excellent.

Matt Williams, director of the Orthodox Union’s Center for Communal Research and an adviser on the new Pew study, said that Orthodox Jewish affinity with the Republican Party should not be attributed entirely to the party’s stance on Israel.

“If you look at the Pew lines on things like same-sex marriage, you see significantly strong alignment between the Orthodox community and what we think of as the Republican platform or conservative value or ethos on that score,” Williams said.

The new Pew numbers come with a giant asterisk, as the researchers worked from a small sample size of 430 Orthodox Jews nationwide out of 4,718 American Jews surveyed overall. Due to the sample size, the margin of error among Orthodox Jews is 8.8 points — nearly three times as large as the margin of error for the data on all American Jews. The new study also was conducted using a different methodology than the 2013 study, making it harder to draw direct comparisons between the two data sets.

But, according to Williams, the data showing the jump in Republican affiliation among Orthodox Jews from the 2013 study to this year’s survey are large enough to rely on.

“It definitely overcomes the methodological difference between the two reports,” Williams said, calling the 18-point increase “huge.”

The Trump administration embraced the Orthodox Jewish community with an unusual warmth. From its start, Orthodox Jews such as U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner held important roles.

There was even a minyan on the White House lawn at the signing of the Abraham Accords, deals of cooperation between Israel and several Arab nations, in September.