The Polls: Religion and the 2000 Presidential Election: Public Attitudes Toward Joseph Lieberman


Jeffrey E. Cohen, professor of political science at Fordham University, is the author of several books, including Presidential Responsiveness and Public Policy-Making, as well as articles in numerous journals including the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics.


For the first time since 1960, the religion of candidates for national office became an election issue as Al Gore named Joseph Lieberman, a Jewish senator from Connecticut, to be his vice presidential running mate. Polls over the past forty years have indicated a greater willingness of Americans to vote for nontraditional candidates for major national office, but these expressed opinions have remained purely hypothetical. With Lieberman's candidacy, we can test whether attitudes toward Jews affected support for Lieberman's vice presidential candidacy. Reviewing a variety of polls, but focusing on the 2000 American National Election Study, I find that attitudes toward Jews affect feelings toward Lieberman. Importantly, the American public appeared warmly disposed toward both Jews and Lieberman. Further, being a member of a group which research on anti-Semitism has identified as at times displaying anti-Semitic attitudes fails to affect attitudes toward Lieberman. Rather, basic political orientations, such as partisanship and ideology, more strongly affect attitudes toward Lieberman. The liberalization in public opinion about who is qualified to serve as president appears a true phenomenon and not merely the expression of socially acceptable responses to survey questions.