Jewish Voters Dissatisfied, But Not Likely to Desert Democrats
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 09:31:14 AM EST
Over at least the past thirty years, conservatives have been trying to convince Jewish voters that they would be wise to cast the Democratic Party aside and move on over to the GOP.  During the past few weeks, the Republican Jewish Coalition "launched campaigns targeting Jewish communities in eight states," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. The campaign, which  includes television advertisements, outreach in Jewish newspapers, and direct mail, will "cost more than $1 million and will feature in competitive races in Florida, Nevada, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Illinois and Washington." At about the same time, the Emergency Committee for Israel, a newly launched group founded by neoconservative William Kristol and Religious Right leader Gary Bauer also unleashed a campaign aimed at "Democratic candidates it perceives as weak on Israel," the Jerusalem Post reported.  

Mulitple conservative outreach projects to Jewish voters might seem like deja vu all over again, except that this time around, GOP forces have a lot more money to work with, and they just might be playing to a more receptive audience.

Are Jewish voters so dissatisfied with the Obama Administration that they will finally turn their back on the Democrats on November 2?

American Jewish Congress survey

A new American Jewish Congress survey suggests that while Jews have, shall we say, fallen out of love with President Obama - his numbers slipping from 78 percent in 2008 to its current 51 percent -- they might not yet be quite ready to vote Republican on November 2.

In a pieced in The New York Jewish Week titled "`Gloom' Factor Sinks Obama's Standing With Jewish Voters," James D. Besser, the publication's Washington correspondent, cited the American Jewish Congress survey and reported that "President Barack Obama's approval rating among Jewish voters has fallen six points in just seven months, and a surprisingly strong 33 percent of those surveyed say the nation would be better off with a Republican-led Congress."

"A 51 percent positive rating for a Democratic president among Jews is, frankly, terrible," University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato told Besser. "This is Obama's low point so far, no question," Sabato added. "It is coming at just the wrong moment, given the Nov. 2 midterm elections."

Commenting on the congressional elections, Sabato said that "If 33 percent of Jewish voters say they prefer a GOP Congress, that tells me that the argument for `checks and balances' has taken hold broadly, and that we are likely headed for divided government in some form,"

According to the AJC's executive director, David Harris, the poll's findings show "that the apprehension index is rising among American Jews. The gloom that has descended on the American public in general is also now revealed among American Jews. We didn't do well in Iraq and are doing worse in Afghanistan, we've lost Turkey as an ally, our current strategy is not likely to convince Iran to change its course, on health care and the economy there are growing concerns -- the anxiety pops out on almost every question."

Harris pointed out however, that "The administration's misfortune does not necessarily become the good fortune of the opposition. The number suggesting they might vote Republican is creeping up, but we are not seeing a discouraged Jewish community ready to embrace of the opposition."

Jewish antipathy toward Tea Party movement

One factor that might play in favor of the Democrats is that a Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 47 percent of the Tea Party movement - which is for all intents and purposes, this year's version of the Republican Party - identify as Christian conservatives.  According to the Jerusalem Post, "Tea Partiers surveyed largely agreed with Republicans and Christian conservatives on abortion, gay rights and immigration, and - at 55% - actually thought that American was a Christian nation in higher numbers than the two other groups. "

As I've written previously, although it is difficult to quantify, very few Jews seem to be involved with the Tea Party movement. In a recent panel discussion at the Brookings Institution, Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Washington office of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that "The primary concern that many in the Jewish community had was [the Tea Party's] overt opposition to government playing a central role in addressing the urgent problems in our society," he said of a demographic that traditionally votes overwhelmingly Democrat.

"The traditional antipathy that the Jewish community has had toward the religious Right will add to its distrust of the Tea Party movement," he concluded.


A historical note: In all but one presidential election since 1916, majorities - usually overwhelming -- of Jews have cast their ballots for Democrats. The ninety percent mark -- the high point of Jews voting for Democratic presidential candidates - was reached in: 1940, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt beat Wendell Wilke; 1944, when Roosevelt beat Thomas Dewey; and, 1964 when Lyndon Johnson won over Barry Goldwater. The one election when the majority of Jews voted for the Republican Party candidate was in 1920, when Warren G. Harding received 43 % of the Jewish vote while the Democratic Party candidate, Ohio Governor James M. Cox received 19% and Eugene V. Debs, running as a Socialist, received 38%. While the Jewish vote in presidential campaigns has ebbed and flowed over the years, the last five presidential elections has seen the Democratic candidate receive at least 76% (John Kerry over George W. Bush) and as high as 80% (Bill Clinton over George H. W. Bush).    


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