Blog 27: Jews and the 2012 Elections: Striking Realities
Jews no longer count in defining election outcomes. The Jewish community’s numbers are simply too small and getting smaller. Several decades ago, Jews comprised some 4% of the electorate; today this constituency accounts for less than 2%. The Jewish vote continues to decline in proportion to the overall national population and in relationship to other ethnic communities, portending a further weakening of this community’s political prowess at the polls.
This political reality may create a discussion around whether there still exists a “Jewish vote” or what strategic roles this constituency can play in future elections.
Despite all of the hype associated with the “Jewish vote,” Barack Obama held this constituency securing around 69% of the vote. While this percentage is below his 2008 total of 78%, Jews clearly remain embedded inside the Democratic Party. Since 1916 Democratic presidential candidates have on average secured 71% of the Jewish electorate. Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis received less support from Jews than this President. This respondent had suggested prior to the election a 9-12% adjustment in the 2012 Jewish vote.
The number of Jewish elected officials at the federal level is dropping and the 2012 election points dramatically to these losses. Therefore, the overall political clout for the community will be undergoing a fundamental change. With fewer members in the House and Senate, this marker of political influence will need to be recast.
No doubt, there will be a new round of recrimination and anger from within the Jewish community following these election results. With Jews deeply divided over the President and his conduct of foreign affairs, the discourse around Israel and American priorities will remain intense over the months ahead. As in the past, American Jews did not vote the “Israel card” in this election but rather joined with other Americans in focusing their political energy around the economy, health care, and a host of other domestic-based considerations.
Blog 26: The Debate and the Jews
During last evening’s debate some 33 minutes was devoted to the Middle East and more directly, United States-Israel relations. No other indicator more directly points to the significance placed by both campaigns on the “Jewish vote” in this coming election.
Employing an array of different frameworks, Bob Schieffer of CBS introduced a series of questions that gave both the President and Governor Romney ample opportunity to define their “pro-Israel” credentials and relationships. And indeed, each candidate took the occasion to reassert their respective record in connection with issues that were introduced around Iran, Syria, and the broader tensions within the Middle East to define their special connections to the State of Israel. Providing their personal connections and policy positions, the two Presidential candidates invoked their support for and commitment to the future of the US-Israel relationship.
Of particular importance, it permitted a sitting President and his rival for the Oval Office to expand America’s engagement with Israel and to create an umbrella of security for Israel when Mr. Schieffer asked if as a nation we would be prepared to defend the Jewish state in the event of it being attacked. This moment within the debate ought to be seen as historic in the context of the American-Israel connection. The question and the two responses represent a fundamental transition of United States’ policy, where the leaders of both political parties articulate such a defined commitment.
This segment of the 90 minute debate was designed specifically to play to the Florida Jewish community, a state key to both campaigns. In a state where only a few percentage points separate the two campaigns, the shift of even a few key voting groups can make a significant difference.
This moment on national television confirmed several political realities, namely the importance of Israel as a strategic and valued ally to the United States. By the attention extended to this relationship, it would symbolize and affirm the significant standing within American society provided to Jews by both political camps.
Blog 22: The Last One Hundred Days: Rhetoric,Money, and Target Constituencies
With approximately 100 days to the November elections, the intensity of the campaign has accelerated. One can identify four core elements: focusing on fund raising, escalating the political rhetoric, studying key voter trends, and creating new organizing initiatives.
If the recent polls are on target with reference to the Jewish vote, the roughly 14% of Jewish voters who are considered as “undecideds” will be the recipients of most of the attention by both political camps
(http://www.haaretz.com/news/u-s-elections-2012/countdown-to-2012-elections-new-jewish-vote-poll-shows-slight-gain-for-romney-1.433764). How and where will that energy play out?
Fund Raising: This past week, the Romney campaign reportedly raised some $1.5 million among Jewish supporters in Los Angeles, while the Republican Jewish Coalition launched its own fundraising effort to target Jewish voters in key swing states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In what they have labeled, “My Buyer’s Remorse” the RLC is seeking to sway disenchanted Obama voters into the Republican camp for 2012.
Political Rhetoric and Key Issues: The conversation around “who would be best in support of Israel” is playing out with the forthcoming visit to Jerusalem scheduled by Governor Romney. The debate over Israel security issues has created points of controversy and tension between Jewish leaders supporting both candidates, especially in Florida.
Key Voter Trends: A series of new voter polls has also created a conversation over voter “enthusiasm.” In a recent Gallup Poll, one finds thirty-nine percent of Democrats indicating that are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, but this number is down from 2004 (68%) and 2008 (61%). In turn, this study found that Republicans (51%) are more enthusiastic than in 2008 (35%) but register the same as they did in 2004 (51%). The key for both campaigns moving forward will be stroking their base, mobilizing their supporters, and targeting the remaining uncommitted.
Organizing Initiatives: Targeting key elites will be one strategy. The mobilization of prominent Jewish Democrats and Republicans and Hollywood personalities will allow each side to demonstrate the scope of endorsements that they have secured in an effort to sway non-committed voters and to re-enforce support from their base. Rabbis and other prominent Jewish communal leaders will be summoned to meetings with both candidates to hear “off-the-record” briefings and to garner their endorsement and/or support.
Mobilizing important constituencies will be the second focus. Each side will now launch a series of ads and outreach initiatives to “sell their message.” Be prepared to be bombarded as your mail boxes will be filled with campaign literature and appeals. Despite all of these specific steps, once past the conventions, the candidates will be concentrating on two core missions: secure financial resources and carry their message to the “toss-up” states. As Jews are seen as an important donor base for both parties and are present in several key swing states, including Florida and Ohio, they will be central players to the unfolding events that will follow in September and October.
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
Jews are like other American voters, but more so! Sociologists have suggested that this fascination and engagement with politics has come to represent the “civil religion” of American Judaism. More than 80% of Jews who are eligible to vote actively exercise this democratic privilege!
As with every American voter, different issues are seen as important to individual Jewish voters.Yet, based on the data from an array of surveys, there are a set of priorities that define for many Jews their core interests and shared concerns. In selecting candidates for the presidency and other federal positions, Jews frequently reference these ten elements (Clearly, no one can speak for a community or even for an individual voter, but this compilation is drawn from an array of studies that have examined Jewish political attitudes):
- A statement of support by candidates committing the United States to ensure Israel’s security and its territorial integrity. Specific actions that reflect United States engagement with Israel through diplomatic, economic and military measures.
- A commitment to this nation’s security by ensuring the maintenance of a strong military designed to enhance homeland security and combat international terrorism while being able to challenge the enemies of the United States and Israel.
- A particular plan designed to isolate Iran, while preventing the regime in Tehran from developing or acquiring nuclear arms.
- Where appropriate, engagement with other countries to seek multi-lateral, alliance-based actions to advance our collective interests. To embrace international organizations when and where they can be effective in combating terrorism and in advancing social change and democratic values.
- Focus on a fiscal plan and tax policy that promotes sustainable economic growth while reducing government spending.
- The framing of a domestic policy that ensures core health care and social services are available to citizens.
- A commitment to equal rights and access for all citizens and the support of programs that promote economic opportunity.
- Maintaining an overarching policy of church-state separation but nonetheless open to specific programs that bring together religious institutions and the public sector in meeting core social service needs.
- Support for a woman’s right of choice by upholding Roe v. Wade.
- Leadership and management experience as demonstrated by a candidate’s ability to bring different political factions together and the capacity to manage complex issues.
In addition, acknowledging that individuals have particular interests or priorities, some of the most pressing issues for Jewish voters include:
- Immigration Reform
- Darfur and Sub-Saharan Africa
- Social Security/Medicare
- Arts and Culture
- Gay Rights
(Again, these findings are taken from a number of studies and interviews concerning Jewish voting priorities.)
In the American Jewish Committee annual surveys of Jewish leaders, those who participated where asked to identify their political orientation:
|1. Extremely Liberal
|3. Slightly Liberal
|4. Middle of the Road
|5. Slightly Conservative
|7. Extremely Conservative
|8. Not Sure
From these studies and others that have been conducted over time, one can identify over time the configuration of the “Jewish vote” as consisting of primarily a moderate-liberal base of voters (64%). Yet, as we have noted in earlier blogs and other writings, Jewish voters can be found in all sectors of the political spectrum.
Your comments and insights pertaining to this election series are encouraged.
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service
Los Angeles campus
Blog 7: The Great Jewish Divide: Competing Voices and Distinct Voting Patterns
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
This blog entry is part of a series of articles and commentaries prepared by Steven Windmueller regarding the 2012 elections and the Jewish vote.
There are “multiple Americas“, as identified by different regional characteristics, social and cultural values, and political interests. The April (2011) edition of The Atlantic contains a map “showing how changing median incomes and demographics have divided the United States into 12 distinct geographic areas”.
This same notion holds for American Jewry; today, we find a distinctive set of political patterns amongst Jews, leading to voting behaviors that represent specific viewpoints and in some cases representing differing regional, economic and social priorities. Despite the commonly held view of “the Jewish vote“, one finds a series of Jewish voting constituencies. As with other groups, Jews take on the characteristics reflective of the social institutions with which they are aligned. This phenamenon applies to the political arena, as well.
Five such “groups” are identified below:
Southern and Mid-Western Jews who have longstanding family ties to these regions and their respective home communities often maintain distinctive political connections and loyalties, in many cases reflecting the social behaviors and characteristics of their neighbors.
Immigrant Jewish Communities often take on specific political sentiments. New Americans, arriving from Iran or the Former Soviet Union or other societies that exhibited hostility toward Israel in particular and the West in general, frequently identify with the foreign policy principles of the Republican Party, namely a strong military and defense posture.
Traditional Religious Jews emulate the political patterns of the Christian evangelical community. Similar to their counterparts within the Christian fundamentalist camp, the political activism of religiously aligned Jews has emerged and taken form over the course of the past 25 years.
“Red-Diaper Baby” Voters are identified with socialist causes and left-wing political ideas. Emulating the political passions of their grandparents’ generation, this block of voters retains links to the social mores of a distinctive group of American activists and voters.
“Urban Jewish Elites” represents an element of secular Jews who identify with an array of liberal organizations and often high-profile social causes. Identified with and supportive of Democratic Party candidates, this cohort has been a key force in defining and shaping American progressive ideas. Joining with like-minded Americans, this group has generated financial and voter support for liberal candidates in major urban areas.
There are no doubt other unique blocks of Jewish voters who not only reflect elements of the general American culture but also capture specific interests and priorities of the Jewish community. The notion of a “monolithic” Jewish vote has really never existed, rather one finds that there are particular characteristics that represent distinctions within any voting segment.
As we know with all voter studies, groups are clustered around particular interests. “Israel” is certainly seen as one of the defining elements in identifying American Jews. In reality, a number of factors describe the particular “type” of Jewish voter. As with most segments of the voting public, such characteristics as candidate appeal, ideological affinity, concruence around key policy issues, and party loyalty, among other considerations, need to be taken into account when “measuring” the political behavior of Jews.
Steven F. Windmueller, Ph.D.
Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Los Angeles Campus