There are the truisms we already know: Jews is news and all its identical twins. And there’s the fact that no matter how tiny the Jewish community might be – 1.5-2% of the population – the battle for Jewish votes is extensively reported and analyzed. And there’s also the fact that for Jewish votes to be of any significance come Election Day, the margin between candidates has to be very small - very, very small - and in very specific areas.
Jews in Ohio are 3% of the vote, George W. Bush won the 2004 election by 2.1% of Ohio votes. This means that even in the closest of elections you need all the Jews to vote as one bloc to make a difference. That is never going to happen, as even the most optimistic (among Republican operatives) and the most pessimistic (among Democratic operatives) put the percentage of Jewish voters in play no higher than 15-18% in addition to the 22-26% that voted for John McCain in 2008.
I’m spending the week in Washington, and talking about the 2012 Jewish vote is one of the greatest joys I entertain here. I ask a lot of questions, and get a lot of answers, some contradictory, some surprisingly not. The number of Jewish votes in play is one topic on which I concentrated. Assuming that around 25% of American Jews voted for Obama in 2008 (very few knowledgeable observers still believe the 78% exit poll number of 2008), how high can Mitt Romney climb? If the votes in play are no more than 18% - and that is the most ambitious estimate I was able to extract – Romney’s ceiling is 43%. But for him to get to that number one needs to give him every single vote of every single undecided Jewish voter. Realistic? Not quite.
If Romney gets half the votes of undecided Jews, he’d be at 34%. That is, if you agree with the 25% estimate of the McCain vote, and the 18% estimate of votes in play – the highest estimate I got. If you go by the exit poll (22% for McCain) and add to it the lowest votes in play estimate I got – 12% - the Romney ceiling is much lower, 34%, and the likely Romney achievement (if he gets half of the Jewish vote-in-play) will be around 28% of the Jewish vote.
And all of it doesn’t matter much – but is interesting nonetheless. For the second time this year, we’ve asked our Israel Factor experts to take an educated guess and tell us what they think the Jewish vote is going to look like. When we did it back in January, they predicted that an Obama-Romney race would produce a 34% vote for the Republican nominee. But a similar question in May’s Factor survey produced a much more subdued prediction: 29.5% for Romney. Pretty close to the answers I got from experts, activists, pollsters and other friends in Washington. The highest prediction of any panelist was 35% for Romney, the lowest 25%. But most of the panelists agreed that Romney would come close to 30%.
Will 30% be an achievement for him, or would it not? Let me parse for you the probable spin:
It means nothing: The whole country voted for Romney in greater numbers than in 2008, and so did the Jews. Nothing to be surprised about or find unique.
It means a lot: When was the last time that any Republican nominee got 30% of the vote or more? It was Reagan in 1984. If Romney is able to get more votes than McCain, Bush (II, twice), Dole, Bush (I), and repeat the 1984 Reagan vote, this is no small thing.
It means nothing: And how many states did this shift of 5-8% of the Jewish vote flip for Romney? None (Yes, I’m talking a risk here, and predicting that no state will be as close as to make 5% of the Jewish vote the decisive factor.
It means a lot: The Jews are moving rightward, slowly but surely (take a look at our Jewish Party Identification meter). Jewish donors will also be moving rightward. Jewish votes might not count a lot, but Jewish money, activism and influence does count. Romney getting to 30% means Obama losing 5% - and this, if estimates and educated guesses are accurate (which I tend to doubt - S.R.), means a fair amount of money.