The Wind Report 2016 Elections Blog #2: Party Loyalty Trumps Politics: Jews as Democrats
Will the disaffection with President Barack Obama on the part of a segment of Jewish voters create a dramatic shift in the 2016 Jewish vote? What might be the particular impact around the debate on the Iran Nuclear Accords on next year’s election outcome?
It is far too early to make such a call. But what is evident, as with past presidential campaigns, there will be once again a particular fascination with the Jewish vote. Every four years we seem to encounter a conversation around this question, whether Jews will be shifting their political base to the Republican Party.
Some commentators will take up this issue as a way to create a heightened level of political interest in the forthcoming campaign. What is often forgotten, party loyalties are not readily undone! Voting patterns change slowly. Voters maintain a surprising degree of party loyalty, and this is particularly true for American Jewish voters who have been identified with the Democratic Party for most of the past one hundred years! No doubt, there are shifts on the “edges,” but the core Jewish polity remains aligned with the Democratic Party. Even when there are specific issues that divide Jewish voters, where the performance of Democratic Presidents is brought into question, the “carry over effect” into the next elections historically has been minimal.
This is not to suggest that there could not be a political upheaval that would change traditional Jewish voting patterns. In the view of this observer, a series of political/economic crisis would need to be in play simultaneously in order to alter the historic Jewish connection to the Democratic Party. While some politicians and political commentators hold to the notion that the Jewish vote is tied to the American-Israel relationship, Jews themselves maintain a multi-tiered political agenda.
Jews come to their partisan engagement drawing upon an array of political interests, both domestic and foreign. No single policy issue most likely would transform the existing voting formula.
Historical data may also be an interesting framework to employ. Jews during the second half of the 19th century, moving into the first several national elections of the 20th century, would vote overwhelmingly “Republican”. This began with Lincoln’s second term and would continue through Theodore Roosevelt’s run for the White House.
Some Background Data:
A 2012 study of Jewish voting behavior offered the following insights:
1. Jewish women are significantly more likely to vote for Democrats than men, a trend that holds true for the general population as well.
2. Older Jews are more likely to vote for Democrats than younger Jewish voters, which runs counter to the general voting public.
3. Unmarried Jews are more likely to vote Democratic, but synagogue attenders vote for Republicans in higher numbers than their unaffiliated co-religionists.
4. Educated Jewish voters are more Democratic than non-educated Jews.
There are other factors of significant importance to American Jews. For example, traditional Jewish liberalism is aligned closely with the issue of church-state separation. Public evangelical pronouncements on the part of political candidates are seen as threatening to many Jews who value and embrace American pluralism. In 1976 and 1980 Jimmy Carter’s popularity among Jewish voters was weaker than any Democratic nominees. The common assumption was that his weak showing resulted from his perceived coolness toward Israel. But, according to various studies, Carter’s relatively poor numbers were tied to his public religiosity. By promoting his evangelical beliefs, he demonstrated a behavior not evident among other Democratic contenders, in turn diminishing his support with Jewish voters.
We saw this same scenario come into play during the 1992 Presidential campaign. Here, evangelical Protestants solidified their support of the Republican Party, while mainline Protestants would abandon President Bush in significant numbers in favor of the candidacy of Bill Clinton. In turn, the Jewish voters who had earlier embraced Ronald Reagan withdrew their support of the Republican nominee in the ‘92 election.
Elsewhere I have written about a deeper examination of Jewish Republicans:
The national Jewish vote may be less significant than examining specific elections and individual states, where Jews are voting more independently and at times more “Republican”. Specific elections, distinctive electoral districts, and particular candidates seem to draw Jewish voters toward the Republican Party; thereby, seeing trends through the lens of individual election outcomes in particular states and districts rather than only examining a national trend, may be a useful way to unpack the Jewish vote.
Secondly, the scope of financial support on the part of key Jewish funders for Republican candidates is an emerging story that demonstrates the growing depth of loyalty and commitment to the Republican Party on the part of this sector of Jewish voters.
On a more general basis, a study entitled “Jewish American Voting Behavior 1972-2008: Just the Facts” analyzed data from presidential and Congressional elections since 1972 concludes American Jews are as liberal politically as they ever were, maybe more. That report argued that the Democrats increased their share of the Jewish vote over the past 36 years but with a significant spike in 1992 that has continued. From 1972 to 1988, Republican candidates averaged 33 percent-37 percent of the vote, but those figures would drop off to 15 percent in 1992. Through the next four presidential elections covering the period 1996- 2008, the Republican Jewish vote never achieved more than 23 percent, as represented by John McCain’s campaign (2008).
Steven Windmueller is a free-lance writer. His writings can be found here on theWindReport.com.