Beyond Obama

The Nathan Cummings Foundation


April 05, 2012

On April 3, the Public Religion Research Institute released the results of a survey commissioned by The Nathan Cummings Foundation. Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012 is the largest survey of American Jews ever conducted by a non-partisan and non-Jewish organization.

Much of the public attention has focused on how well President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger are faring among Jewish voters (for example, this article in the New York Times).  But we are more interested in what the survey says about the values of American Jews and how those values influence our positions on public policy and politics.

We underwrote the survey because, as a funder of the Jewish social justice sector and as a foundation guided by Jewish values, it is important to know more about how Jews today understand our shared experience, engage our principles and consider the issues facing our country.
So what did we learn? More than I can convey in a single email.
I will start with a simple observation. The most interesting data is often that which forces us to reexamine long-held beliefs or assumptions. As I wrote in an op-ed published on Tuesday by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

Liberals and conservatives who care about the Jewish future would benefit from mulling over the data beyond the headlines.
For example, conservatives might want to grapple with this finding. We asked participants: As a Jew, which of the following qualities do you consider most important to your Jewish identity?

The most popular quality was “a commitment to social equality,” chosen by 46% of American Jews. Support for Israel and religious observance came in second and third with 20% and 17%, respectively.

On the other hand, liberal Jews take for granted popular support for their positions within the Jewish community. …The survey asked whether or not poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs. A clear majority (54%) said they had.

So while Jews may support legal abortion and gay marriage in overwhelming numbers (93% and 81% respectively), they also agree with an argument long advanced by conservatives: Social programs create dangerous dependency.


We have set up a page on our website to aggregate analysis of the survey by NCF and others, along with links to the full survey, news stories, and other items of interest. I hope you take a few minutes to visit.

If you spend any time on Facebook, please take a moment to “like” our page.  We will use the page to keep the NCF community up to date on the amazing work of our grantees and others in our program areas or the philanthropic community. This will allow us to save email for a much smaller number of important communications.

As Passover nears, I hope many of you have the opportunity to attend a Seder. It continues to be a space where I find Judaism’s justice imperative most powerfully manifest through ritual.
Chag Sameach. Happy Easter.
PS: The man behind this poll, Robert P. Jones, has an column in the Washington Post’s On Faith section that provides a good overview of some of the key numbers.