Jewish Voters, Obama and the Great Elephant Hunt

Reference: Jewish Daily Forward

November 19, 2010

Plus: Jewish Voting in Presidential Elections, 1916 – 2012

How Jews Vote, by the Numbers

By J.J. Goldberg

Looking at the midterm election results, even a casual observer can find any number of obvious, unavoidable lessons about the state of our nation. For all the Republican chest-thumping and Democratic breast-beating in the election’s aftermath, it’s hard to miss the core truths that were exposed: the intensity of the economic distress, the depth of public frustration with politicians and the crippling extremity of politicians’ own polarization.

Here’s another lesson, not quite as obvious: the depth of the schism that’s increasingly dividing American Jews from one another — and from Israel. We’ve known for some time that we are growing apart in many ways, liberals from conservatives, Orthodox from Reform, Zionists from human rights activists. Now, with little warning, we’re finding that the various little fissures are merging to form a great, yawning chasm.

We’re finding, too, that Israel has taken on a new role in our communal debate. For a long time, Israel served as a unifier. Whatever else divided us, whether religiously, politically or temperamentally, Israel was the standard that rallied us, mostly. Now it is Israel that divides us, more than anything else, and our other quarrels seem to arrange themselves along the lines that Israel has drawn.

Since we’re talking about an election, let’s look at some numbers. Jewish voters voted for Democrats for Congress over Republicans on November 2 by a margin of 66% to 31%, or about two-to-one, according to an election-night exit poll conducted by J Street. Exit polls were also conducted by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), and while it’s hard to compare the two — the Republican group polled local races in five states rather than a national sample — the results are similar enough to be convincing.

The RJC is touting the Democrats’ 66% Jewish showing as a GOP victory, since it’s lower than the 78% of Jewish votes that Barack Obama won in 2008. This shows, the Coalition said in a statement, that “the GOP is making inroads among Jewish voters.”

… Despite what the RJC says, there’s nothing unusual about a 66% Democratic showing among Jewish voters. Since 1928, Democrats have repeatedly seesawed between earning 60% and 82% of the Jewish vote. They’ve reached 90% three times (Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 and 1944, Lyndon Johnson in 1964) and dropped below 60% only once (Jimmy Carter in 1980, with 45%). Nor is there anything historic about the Republicans’ 31%; they’ve done better than that in seven of the last 21 presidential years, twice reaching up to 40% (Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 and Ronald Reagan in 1980). Still, historic or not, 31% can hardly be called “no traction.”

What’s often overlooked is the existence of a Jewish swing vote that’s up for grabs in every election. Between the 40% that Republicans can win in a good year and their 10% in a bad year, there’s a Jewish voting bloc of about 30% that can be moved.

… Nationwide, by J Street’s numbers, Democrats this year won among Reform Jews by 72% to 24% and Conservative Jews by 58% to 39%, but lost the Orthodox vote 44% to 53%.

In some local races, the gap was much more dramatic. In New York’s 4th congressional district, on Long Island, Democratic incumbent Carolyn McCarthy bested Republican Fran Becker among Jewish voters by about two to one, according to the RJC survey. McCarthy won Reform voters by 80% to 11% and Conservative voters by 61% to 21%. However, she lost by a whopping 15% to 64% among Orthodox voters, about one-fifth of the district’s Jewish population. (Percentages don’t add up to 100 when some respondents don’t answer a question.) Similar ratios emerged in races surveyed in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Given the slow but steady rise of Orthodox Jews as a proportion of American Jewry, signs point to a more Republican Jewish future.

To read the entire article, click here.

For Jewish voting results in presidential elections, 1916 to 2012, click here.