This article, in a slightly shorter and slightly different version, first appeared in the IHT-NYT
SOUTH BEACH COUNTY, Florida - Surprising a small group of fellow Jews sitting in a classroom, I got my first first-hand lesson on the technicalities of Florida voting. As boring as this might sound, this was the issue discussed in this improvised friendly seminar of sorts: What’s on the ballot, and how does one make sure to give his voice to the causes and officials he believes in.
Admittedly, no observer can stumble on such lesson – voting 101 for Floridian Jews – without surrendering to the temptation of a nasty smirk: Now? Now these Jews are suddenly learning how to vote properly? Twelve years on? Twelve years after George W. Bush narrowly beat Al Gore in Florida and won the election?
Of course, no one knows if the Jews were truly at fault for the 2000 election debacle. So many years later, and there’s still no agreed-upon analysis of Florida 2000. The New York Times concluded that Bush would have won even without the Supreme Court ruling to halt the recount of votes. But no one can reliably tally the number of elderly Jewish voters who mistakenly voted for Bush, or for Patrick Buchanan, an unlikely choice for most American Jews, or failed to vote for the candidate they wanted to win: Gore.
Hopefully, this year Jews are being better prepared for Election Day. If they fail to vote for the candidate everyone expects them to vote for – Barack Obama – a reason other than technical troubles would have to be found. Either his policy toward Israel – as Israelis, highly unsupportive of Obama - would like to believe; or his economic policies – as is more reasonable to suspect; or some other reason, unknown at this time. And anyway, such “failure” to vote for the right candidate will have to be measured with very sensitive scales. “Failure” means going from about 75% support of Jews to just 65% of Jews. Namely, a vast majority of American Jews still voting for the man in the White House.
A few days ago, in a radio interview dedicated to my new book – The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney / A Jewish Voter’s Guide – the host presented me with the title of “expert on the Jewish vote”. This is a title with an impressive ring that masques an important fact: one hardly needs to be an “expert” on anything to accurately predict the Jewish vote. Jews have not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since forever, and in most races give the Democrats not just the majority, but a vast majority, of their votes. Yet again, when one wants to “accurately” predict the Jewish vote one has to first define the meaning of “accurate”.
Does a 2-, or 3-, or 4-point change in the Jewish vote – representing a change of 2% in the vote of 2% of the American population (Jews, it must be said, vote in higher percentages, so their actual share of the national vote is about double their share of the population) – have any significance worthy such levels of intense scrutiny?
In other words: Investigating and studying the Jewish vote with such passion is more about the eager student than about the barely consequential, or rarely consequential, topic. And it got me thinking that maybe studying the Jewish vote is really a very Jewish thing to do – much like studying the Talmud. Immersing oneself in miniscule detail of little value to most other people, debating and fighting over infinitesimal alterations. Will Obama get 71% percent of the Jewish vote – a victory (not so, the Republicans would convincingly argue), or just 69% - a failure (not so, the Democrats would as convincingly argue)?
According to Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami, 96 percent of local Jews are registered to vote here in South Beach County. That’s more than the percentage of local Jewish households participating in a Seder for Passover. One wonders if the percentage of those constantly pondering the meaning of the Jewish vote is even higher. I would not be surprised if it is. So, yes - pondering the Jewish vote is a very Jewish thing to do.
Check out Rosner's new book, The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney / A Jewish Voter's Guide