October 28, 2004
Jewish Switch to GOP? Not This Year
"Because of the strong support of the Republican candidate for president and doubts about the commitment of the Democrat, this
is the year that large numbers of Democrats will finally move into the Republican camp and stay there, because the Republicans really do better represent the status and interests of the Jews."
We have seen and heard that before. It appeared in three major magazine articles in 1972, when the hard-line conservative Richard Nixon ran against decorated war hero, liberal, George McGovern, who was accused of being unsympathetic to Israel. It was repeated even louder in 1980, when the conservative, publicly pro-Israel Ronald Reagan ran against the moderate Jimmy Carter, sympathetic to the Palestinians and, at best, ambivalent about Israel.
Welcome to 2004.
In fact, there was erosion of the Jewish Democratic vote in both 1972 and 1980. About 35 percent of the Jews voted for Nixon and almost 40 percent voted for Reagan. But those must be seen in comparison with the larger American vote, especially that of white non-Jews.
In 1972, the Jewish vote was 29 percentage points more Democratic and even in 1980 it was 16 percentage points less Republican, both well within the 50-year range of 16-29 percentage points.
Looking over a 52-year-period, the difference between Jews and white non-Jews is significantly higher between 1984 and 2000 than it was between 1952 and 1960. Thus, in spite of their continued climb up the socio-economic status ladder, compared with other whites, Jews are relatively more Democratic at the beginning of the 21st century than they were in mid-20th century. And there were a lot more poor, labor union, Depression-born Jews in 1952 than there are in 2004.
In spite of Sen. John Kerry's perfect voting record on Israel over 20 years, he is generally correctly perceived as less ardently pro-Israel than is President Bush. Although it has been largely withdrawn, Kerry's suggestion to give prominent roles in foreign affairs to former Secretary of State ("f--- the Jews") James Baker and Carter raised doubts about his sensitivity to Jewish Israel concerns. His willingness to cede more power to an increasingly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel European Union raises further questions.
One critical perspective argues that Jews will eventually find a way into the Republican Party to vote for their (economic) interests. For the time being, forget about that remarkably simplistic Marxist analysis.
Jews vote Democratic to protect their self-interests: freedom of choice on abortion, stem cell and scientific research, protection of the environment, separation of church and state, gun control, political and economic rights for minorities like gays, universal health care, protection of Social Security and for reallocating budget priorities: spending more money for education, medical research, the arts, welfare for the disadvantaged and less money for the military.
Given where most Jews stand on the issues, Jews do indeed vote for the party that, by far, comes closest to their preferences.
Is the case for Israel sufficient to move large numbers of Jews into the Republican camp?
No. From the perspective of the large number of American Jews, Bush is simply very wrong on almost all the important issues.
Will some Jews switch?
Yes. Those Democrats for whom Israel is by far the single most salient issue may move, but many of those people -- such as the more extreme Orthodox -- are already in the Republican camp, because of issues like church-state, especially those who send their children to Jewish day schools.
For most American Jews, especially the younger ones, Israel is not the most important issue. Most Jews -- such as the younger, better educated -- are strongly liberal on issues like civil liberties, civil rights, the environment, aid to science, etc. There is simply no way that Bush's moderately more pro-Israel position will pull them into a Republican vote.
A CNN Poll two weeks ago gave 78 percent of the Jewish vote to Kerry. That sounds a little high to me. I would guess that it would be in the range of 72-76 percent, and if one takes into account the vote of the apparently strongly pro-Bush American Jews living in Israel (whose exact vote we shall never know and whose vote will not be counted in the Election Day exit poll that will be cited as the definitive figure), probably in the 70-74 percent range.
Will significant numbers of Jews ever leave the Democratic Party?
Maybe, but it will require either a Democratic Party that is not pro-Israel and/or the Republicans nominating a candidate with decidedly moderate social policies. But not this year.
Alan Fisher is a political science professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills.