January 18, 2012 | 11:38 am
Over the last several decades, Democratic identification has declined among many traditionally Democratic groups (white Southerners, Catholics and others), but for Jews it has remained fairly steady. There are many explanations for this unique political behavior of the Jewish voter, most of them focusing on the relatively liberal views of Jews on almost all social issues, while others suggesting the “rural, overwhelmingly Christian and Southern” nature of the GOP is a turn-off for Jewish voters. As the Washington Post’s conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin framed it, “They don’t sound like us, they don’t talk like us and they don’t understand us.”
Whatever the reason, in almost every election cycle of recent years, Republicans have attempted to make a new case for the “this time, it is really coming” argument — namely, to convince the public that a new wave of Jewish Republican voters is about to appear. However, as I wrote in 2009 in Commentary, “The story remained what it has been over the course of the past seven national elections, with Jews voting for Democratic candidates by colossal margins.”
Will 2012 be any different? Last August, The New York Times op-ed page columnist Charles Blow made a case that was somewhat reminiscent of the 2004 and 2008 Republican claims: Relying on data from the Pew Research Center, Blow argued that “the number of Jews who identify as Republican or as independents who lean Republican has increased by more than half since the year [Obama] was elected. At 33 percent it now stands at the highest level since the data have been kept. In 2008, the ratio of Democratic Jews to Republican Jews was far more than three to one. Now it’s less than two to one.”
Following criticism from some quarters, Blow repeated his claim a few weeks later in another column, in which he argued that “Obama’s approval rating among Jews in 2010 averaged 58 percent. This percentage was the lowest of all those representing his enthusiastic supporter groups except one, the religious unaffiliated.” Blow’s claim that Obama’s loss of support among Jews should be attributed to the president’s positions on Israel was furiously criticized (many of the critics were associated with J Street). Nevertheless, the question remains: Do Jews — as one might conclude from the Pew numbers — now trend Republican more than they have in the past? (The other interesting question — whether changes in Jewish attitudes can be linked to Obama’s policies on Israel — is not addressed here.)
To help make all this a numbers-based type of discussion, we gathered data available from four sources on the Web: the American Jewish Committee (AJC) annual surveys of Jewish opinion, Gallup surveys, the study on Jewish Distinctiveness in America by Tom W. Smith (from 2005 — we needed those to get a glimpse of previous decades) and the Pew studies. The studies and the numbers were then put together in two tables (we separated the data into two sets following the advice of Tel Aviv University professor Camil Fuchs, Rosner’s Domain magician-in-chief. The two sets of data can’t mix, because Pew had voters divided into leaning Republican and leaning Democratic, and the other surveys include “Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Not Sures.”
The result — as seen in the accompanying graphs (both tables are shown in full) — is quite revealing: While the Pew graph might suggest that the GOP is gaining somewhat among Jewish voters (that’s the basis for the Blow post), the second graph seems to suggest that Jews don’t really trend Republican, but rather trend independent — like the rest of the electorate. In other words: The Democratic Party is losing while the Republican Party is not necessarily gaining.
Here you can see the PEW numbers:
* AJC annual surveys of Jewish opinion, ** Gallup, *** Jewish Distinctiveness in America, Tom W. Smith. T, 2005,
Even if Jews aren’t yet moving in droves over to the GOP camp, the data might still be considered bad news for the Democratic Party. When a Republican candidate for the presidency is getting more votes from Jewish voters, it is not usually Jewish Republican voters. As one study showed, “The average non-Jewish Bush voter identifies as a weak Republican, while the mean Jewish Bush voter is an independent leaning Republican.” Another study, of the 2008 election, found, “Among Independents, we see even more of a pronounced split with Obama garnering just over 36 percent, McCain close to 30 percent, and undecided at 30 percent.” Clearly, the more independent the Jewish voter, the more likely he is to choose a Republican over a Democratic nominee.
Not one serious pollster or political operative expects the Jewish vote to be divided in favor of the 2012 Republican candidate, or to be equally distributed. The question is not about who will be winning the Jewish vote, but rather, whether the GOP can outperform its past rather meager performances with Jewish voters. Pollster Jim Gerstein answered this question not long ago with these numbers: “Our latest poll of American Jews simulated an election between Obama and Romney, and perhaps presents the clearest picture of where the Jewish vote may be headed. The initial vote shows Obama leading 63–24 [percent]. When we allocated the undecided voters by party identification — a common practice among political pollsters when trying to map out the outcome of a race — the vote was 70–27 [percent].”
The question, though, remains: How did Gerstein allocate the growing segment of Jewish independents? Right now, polls suggest that within the general American population, “Proportionately more independents lean to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party,” but we do not know if this is also the case with Jewish voters. In other words, as long as we don’t have a study on the current tendencies of Jewish independents, we can’t know for sure which way they’ll go.
To study this question, one has to ask a follow-up question on the “leanings” of independent Jewish voters. Back in 2004, a study found that “after asking independents which party they ‘leaned’ towards, 64 percent of all Jewish voters identified as Democrats, 16 percent as Republicans, and 20 percent as independents.” If that is still the case, then Democrats have less to worry about, as most “leaners” tend to behave in a way similar to that of party partisans. But Republicans can hope that the Pew 2010 study is a sign that Jewish independents now trend Republican, and can also see some positive signs in the AJC surveys from 2010 and 2011, where it seems as if theindependent section is growing at the expense of Democrats, not Republicans.
Fall 2010 *
2002- 2004 **
* AJC annual surveys of Jewish opinion
*** Jewish Distinctiveness in America, Tom W. Smith. T, 2005
12.6.13 at 4:56 am | Another episode of our series of weekly video. . .
12.6.13 at 3:54 am | We bring you a daily round-up of the interesting. . .
12.5.13 at 8:35 am | The third and final part of an exchange with. . .
12.5.13 at 4:17 am | Headlines & Reads: Kerry Arrives in Jerusalem,. . .
12.4.13 at 8:13 am | According to Pew, Tea Party supporters are more. . .
12.4.13 at 4:05 am | Headlines & Reads: US & Allies Reach Out to. . .
11.26.13 at 8:04 am | Our Panel of experts takes a look at President. . . (362)
12.4.13 at 8:13 am | According to Pew, Tea Party supporters are more. . . (200)
12.2.13 at 7:51 am | A few notes on Gallup's 'suffering' stats, a. . . (107)
We welcome your feedback.
Your information will not be shared or sold without your consent. Get all the details.
JewishJournal.com has rules for its commenting community.Get all the details.
JewishJournal.com reserves the right to use your comment in our weekly print publication.
Jewish Ideas Daily
NY Jewish Week
Public Policy Polling
Sabato’s Crystal Ball
The Cook Report
The Jewish Channel
The Jewish Forward
The Monkey Cage
The Washington Institute for NE Policy
Walter Russell Mead