The Great Jewish Realignment of 2023
Why the next generation of American elites will be more right-wing
When people want to forecast political trends, they often look at polls that seek to be representative of the general population, or subgroups within it. So if young people are in favor of, say, more government spending, we may predict that as older voters die off and are replaced by their children and grandchildren, economic policy will move to the left in future decades.
All else being equal, it is of course better for a cause to have public opinion on its side. But this sort of naive population-level forecasting has a tendency to ignore the importance of elites. Americans have, for example, always opposed affirmative action, yet it is still with us. Polls show that Democrats are too liberal for the public on identity issues while Republicans are too conservative on economics, but that doesn’t mean our politics will allow a more redistributionist, socially conservative coalition to form and rule over us.
Public opinion is less important in foreign policy than almost anywhere else. Most people don’t vote on it most of the time, and if they do, it’s more likely to be based on a general sense that a politician is “keeping us safe” or “being soft on our enemies” than their stand on a particular dispute. In 2020, North Macedonia joined NATO, and I’d guess that fewer than 5% of Americans ever even heard about this, much less let it influence how they vote or interact with the political process. Of course, if you polled people on the issue, you might find an age gap. But if you showed retirees are more in favor of NATO expansion than young adults, you shouldn’t take that information and bet that it means North Macedonia is likely to be expelled from the alliance in 50 years.
Much has been made of the fact that young Americans are less supportive of Israel than older generations. This has led some to argue that Washington will eventually catch up to the public, and become a more neutral broker in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. I think that there may be some shift to the left in future Democratic administrations, but that it will be somewhat balanced out by Republicans supporting Israel more strongly than before. The trend on the majority of contentious issues is towards polarization, with Republican administrations and politicians moving right on most things and Democrats going in the opposite direction. Overall, this might be good for Israel, but it’s probably going to be something of a wash. I don’t expect the US-Israeli relationship to change all that much in coming decades, and this is particularly true when the conflict in the Middle East is out of the news, and policy is made without the activist class of the left being mobilized on this issue.
While we may wonder about the general trend of American foreign policy, when talking about the political impact of October 7 and its aftermath I think people are missing a much larger story. If even a small portion of Jews becomes more hostile to the left in reaction to recent events, this has the potential to significantly reshape American politics. Those horrified by antisemitism on university campuses and opposition to Zionism more generally are likely to not only become more supportive of Republicans, but probably for understandable reasons become more right-wing on a wide range of issues.
I think what we’ve seen since the start of the conflict is the following dynamic. Americans at the 90th percentile of influence are becoming more pro-Palestinian. This might be your typical leftist activist or professor. But as you go up the pyramid of power, once you get to the top 1% or 0.1%, you’ve seen people shift to the right. American studies professors and White House interns are outraged over what’s being done to Gaza. Meanwhile, a few billionaires and centimillionaires are becoming more politically active and hostile to the left. For conservatives, this is a good trade.
Despite there being fewer people in the top 1% or so, by definition of course, I still think that stratum is in the aggregate more important than the lumpenintelligentsia and activist classes below it. This is why we’ve seen conservatives able to force out an Ivy League president for the very first time, and put these institutions on the defensive. Bill Ackman, one Jewish billionaire, was able to help oust Liz Magill by publicizing her testimony before Congress. Upon doing that, he sent a letter to Harvard, demanding that they also fire their president, claiming that he is “personally aware of more than a billion dollars of terminated donations from a small group of Harvard’s most generous Jewish and non-Jewish alumni.” Marc Rowan, another Jewish billionaire, had similarly sent daily emails to the rest of the Board of Regents at Penn telling them to remove their president before they finally took his advice.
That effort succeeded while Claudia Gay remains in her job, but the larger point is that the right has been able to strike a blow at elite universities in ways that they haven’t before. There’s a lesson here in that, in a few months, the influence of a handful of rich guys on elite universities has been greater than that of tens of millions of Republican voters and consumers of conservative media raging about the state of college campuses over the course of several decades.
Let’s Talk about Jewish Power
Even when individuals notice the disproportionate power of elites, they’re mostly thinking about people like academics at prestigious schools and the presidents of NGOs. While these people certainly have more influence than the average Hannity viewer, Harvard seems at least as responsive to major donors as it is to protesting students and most professors. As it turns out, with enough money you can just buy the Cathedral. This is obviously what Elon Musk did with Twitter, and although buying Harvard isn’t as straightforward or easy, recent events indicate that it might be done. And if Harvard won’t sell out, someone else will. Capital has a great deal of power to influence the world of ideas, but it usually remains latent, with businessmen focused on their daily work and outsourcing to the activist and journalistic classes the job of shaping the ideological landscape. But when that power turns in a certain direction, it can be akin to the awakening of a sleeping giant. This is by the way why right-wing populists who hate capitalists in addition to hating other sources of power like the media and universities are foolish, because you actually need to win some portion of the elite to have any influence at all.
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The American elite is very, very Jewish. Everyone knows this to some degree, but unless you’ve spent time in the darker corners of the internet, you probably have no idea just how Jewish it is. In the US, Jews are about 2.7% of the population, but 17% of our billionaires, and 10% of billionaires globally. They make up 9% of the Senate and 6% of the House, which may seem somewhat low but is impressive given how geographically concentrated American Jews are. Most interestingly, in the 2020 election cycle, they were 15 of the top 25 individual donors as of September. That year wasn’t much of an outlier. In 2014, a third of the top 50 political contributors were also Jewish. I haven’t seen any numbers on megadonors to elite universities, but recent events indicate that they might be comparable.
The fact that Jews can, depending on the year, make up a third to over half of the biggest donors to political causes can’t be explained by intelligence or economic success alone. Nonetheless, the mystery disappears when you realize that Jews are not only smart, but hyper-political compared to other ethnic groups. According to a 2020 report from the American Enterprise Institute:
On both of these fronts, American Jews were pretty close to the average: 19% of Americans have donated money in some fashion and 12% of Americans have displayed a yard sign, whereas 21% of Jews made a donation and 14% posted a sign. This was lower than the number of white, college-degree holding Americans who had donated money, a group that American Jews by and large resemble, but who donated to political causes at a higher rate than American Jews — 27% of them had cut a check.
But when it comes to some other political behaviors, American Jews were much more active, appreciably more vocal and politically involved than most in the nation. When respondents were asked if they had contacted an elected official, about a quarter of Americans (23%) answered yes. But a considerably higher percentage of American Jews have done so — 36% to be exact. Using social media to publicly express support for a political campaign is also appreciably higher among Jews in the United States. 42% of Jews had used Facebook, Twitter, or another platform to express a political view, a much higher percentage compared to both the national average (33%) as well as other white, well-educated Americans, 34% of whom had used social media to express political views.
Moreover, the data makes it clear that as far as 2020 is concerned, Jews are generally far more participatory compared to members of other faiths; while over 40% of Jews post political material on social media, only 30% of Christians have done the same.
Finally, the survey asked if people had attended a political rally, protest, speech or campaign event. Here the national figure is 12%, a new high from a national number in the single digits that has generally been the case since the 1950s. But for American Jews, the number is even higher; almost a quarter of Jewish Americans (21%) report having taken to the streets. This is also higher than well-educated, whites, at 16%, and other major religious denominations such as Protestants (10%), Catholics (10%), and Americans who claim to simply have no religion (17%).
In addition to the data above, from personal experience it strikes me as extremely plausible that Jews are just as above average in political interest as they are in intelligence. It’s very rare that you meet a highly successful Jew who has no interest in politics, but one sees this among other groups all the time.
To be in the top 1% or higher of influence, you have to be extreme both in terms of how successful you are and how much you care about politics. This is why, despite East Asians being a highly educated group and about as numerous as Jews, they are basically a non-factor in American politics except when they’re pushing back on the most absurd initiatives to come out of San Francisco.
The white nationalist argument that Jewish intelligence alone can’t explain their influence and they must all be conspiring together is therefore misguided. Imagine that you have 42 non-Jewish Americans for every one Jew, which reflects them being about 2.4% of the population. Let’s say that Jews are on average two-thirds of a standard deviation higher than everyone else in IQ. If you look at the population with an IQ of at least two standard deviations over the mean and want to define that as your elite, there will be 10.5 gentiles for every Jew. Going to three standard deviations for your definition of elites brings the number down to 6.9, which is still not nearly enough to explain the extreme overrepresentation of Jews in activities like being a megadonor.
However, the mystery disappears completely if we assume that Jews are two-thirds of a standard deviation higher than other groups when it comes to both intelligence and interest in politics, and furthermore that the two traits are uncorrelated. Now, if you define an elite as someone who is at least 2SD higher than average on both these traits, you only get 2.6 gentiles for every Jew. Under the most restrictive definition of elites, where one needs to be at least 3SD over the mean in both IQ and political interest, which would be about a few hundred American adults, Jews make up over half of this most highly selected group, despite again being only 2.4% of the population.
Once you’re talking the top 25 donors in an election cycle, you can see how you end up with an outcome where Jews make up an absolute majority, as unlikely as that might seem at first. See the figure below.
These numbers shouldn’t be taken too literally, and there’s certainly a lot of randomness in determining which Americans become the most influential individuals in the country. Rather, what this exercise demonstrates is that it’s easy to understand how Jews can become extremely influential with some very simple assumptions. If we couldn’t use statistical reasoning and had to just guess, I think most people would be inclined to say that there’s no way a group that is 2% of the population can end up as overrepresented among elites as it is, even if it does have certain traits that give it an advantage over others. But statistical literacy is a good antidote to antisemitism. If you posit that in addition to intelligence and political interest, there is a third trait that is important in becoming an elite, say living in the right metropolitan location, one can with reasonable assumptions end up with a model in which Jews should be an even higher percentage of American elites than the figures above suggest. It is of course a gross oversimplification to build a model in which there are only two variables that decide whether you become an elite or not, as there are certainly many more. But that model alone is enough to prove that there is nothing nefarious or strange going on when we see massive Jewish overrepresentation among American political elites, up to the point where they can be half or more of the large donors to our two major political parties.
What all of this means is that, despite non-Jews being a much larger share of the population, you could make a plausible argument that based on the composition of our elite, winning the 2% of Americans who are Jewish is of comparable importance to winning over the other 98%. Moreover, elite gentiles tend to associate with Jews a lot for obvious reasons, and are therefore often philosemitic. Some of the big donors who have cut off Ivy League universities since October 7 have been non-Jews like the Huntsman family. Getting Jews on your side therefore gives you some of the most accomplished gentiles too, and all of this means that whichever side of the political spectrum is seen as harboring more anti-Semites is at a major disadvantage.
The Impact of the War in Gaza
Unfortunately, there are few polls done of the top 0.1% or even 1% of our political elite, and there are certainly no surveys of those likely to join that elite in future generations, since we can’t even predict who these people are, much less find them. But one shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that only things we can measure are important. This is a flaw of much social science and political analysis. You can do a YouGov poll and measure how much more likely those over 65 are to support Israel than those who are 18-34, but there are practically no surveys looking at millionaires and billionaires who happen to be highly interested in current events. So we go on pretending that something called the “18-34 demographic” is all that matters for understanding the future of our politics.
Although it’s true that “the plural of anecdote is not data,” when we’re talking about a highly selected population that is extremely small, anecdotes are more meaningful than they would be in other contexts. If one politically active billionaire changes his political orientation, it becomes national news because we know that alone could have a major impact on society. Sam Altman, the most influential person in AI, becoming more skeptical about the American left is pretty important, and a smart movement will take that over a temporary shift in polling results.
There are good reasons to expect that Jews believing that antisemitism is rampant on the left will make them more right-leaning on other topics. The vast majority of people don’t think carefully about each issue. They often have a gut reaction based on group identity, and then end up identifying with one political tribe or the other. This impacts which voices they listen to and the kinds of arguments that reach them. Because of my recent writings on Israel, I’ve picked up many new followers and subscribers who are highly concerned with antisemitism on college campuses, and they will probably become more likely to listen to me on other issues. Recently, the NYT ran a story about how ratings for Fox News were up in Jewish metro areas, and people who might tune into the network because they like the way it covers Israel will also be exposed to right-wing arguments on the Biden economy or immigration. Razib has written about how, among Asian Americans, Christians are more likely than those of other faiths to lean towards the Republican Party.
If more Jews come to believe that the left is antisemitic, I would expect them to move right on unrelated issues like crime and taxes, in addition to being less likely to support Democrats going forward. The fact that the standard left-wing template of “white oppressor, dark victim” has been so naturally applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not gone unnoticed. And while it’s true that younger Jews are less supportive of Israel, recent polls show about half of those 18-29 saying they feel at least somewhat attached to that country, and I would guess that number has gone up since October 7. Again, what matters here isn’t so much all Jews, but elite Jews, along with highly influential philosemitic gentiles, and here we don’t have poll results but simply must watch the behavior of specific individuals and institutions to have a sense of how things are changing. Another important thing to note is that Jews have one of the largest gender gaps of any ethnic group, and since being male is another major predictor of being an elite, it further narrows the segment of the population that we should be analyzing here. None of this is to say that the most influential Jews are likely to become majority Republican, but if that group goes from say 20% conservative to 40% our politics will see a massive change.
Aside from Jews moving right, I think we’ll see Jewish influence within the Democratic coalition blunt the impact of liberals becoming more sympathetic towards the Palestinians. The Biden White House just vetoed a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, while congressional Democrats mostly stand with the Israeli war effort, as do the Democratic governors of some of the largest states in the country. The party is much more responsive than Republicans are to the influence of liberals becoming increasingly anti-Israel, but leftists who are pro-Palestinian could nonetheless indefinitely remain on the outside looking in to the upper reaches of power. Nate Silver notes that the division over Israel on the left involves the same factions that have been arguing over covid and wokeness, and the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party has a lot going for it in these fights, including more financial resources, more ability to connect with normal Americans and therefore win elections, and better mental health. Most likely, one side won’t decisively defeat the other, and we’ll instead see friction in left-leaning spaces as the remaining Jews within them are outnumbered by increasingly diverse cohorts. This is also good for conservatives.
Those on the right who are prone towards white identitarianism or Christian nationalism might sulk about Jewish influence in their movement. To me, this is just as pathetic as black activists on college campuses complaining that physics departments are too white. In a free society, groups that are successful and interested in politics will naturally have an outsized role to play, and there’s no way to change this without state-backed discrimination, as we get with affirmative action. Because most people are not statistically literate, they have trouble understanding how one group can have such a large influence given its small numbers. From my perspective, Jewish power on the right shouldn’t just be accepted, but actively celebrated, since the two main problems with American conservatism is that it has too few smart people and too many theocrats. Jews becoming more influential in the movement helps on both these fronts.
Leftists may look at surveys of young people and convince themselves that they have the wind at their backs. But they are in the process of making some powerful enemies. It is the Great Jewish Realignment, rather than broad cohort shifts, that is likely to end up the most important political story of 2023.
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