It is much too early to discuss the impact Jewish voters might have on the 2012 election. The number of Jewish voters is small, and its significance will depend on how close the vote will be in several key states in which Jewish voters can tip the scale in one direction or another.
Florida is naturally one of the states on which such speculation will focus. In 2008, 4% of Florida voters were Jewish (3% of all Floridians are Jewish according to PEW), and most of them voted for Obama (the exact percentage is not known). In 2004, 80% of Jewish Floridians voted for John Kerry, while 20% voted for George W. Bush, according to a Solomon Project analysis – the numbers should not be treated as accurate as the number of Jews in each of the polls on which such analysis is based is fairly small.
In 2000, according to this same analysis, 88% of the Jews of Florida voted for the Gore (and Lieberman) ticket, while 12% voted for Bush. In both 2000 and 2004, the Florida Jewish vote was tilted more toward the Democratic candidate than the general Jewish vote.
In 2008, 9% of all Democratic primary voters in Florida were Jewish (58% of them voted for Hillary Clinton, 26% for Obama). In 2004, 10% of Democratic primary voters were Jewish (we don’t know whom they voted for, but nationally most Democratic Jews - 81% - supported John Kerry). The percentage of Jews voting in Republican primaries is much smaller, in fact, very close to the percentage of Jews in the state (this in fact means that Jewish Republicans in Florida are very committed to voting, since they are able to reach the 3% mark even though the vast majority of Jews vote in the Democratic primaries).
Speculation surrounding the role of the Jewish vote in next week’s Republican vote is already under way, with reporters mixing fact and myth, and confusing primary vote with general election vote.
This report, for example, claims that “The state’s nearly 640,000 Jews are just 3.4 percent of Florida’s population. But because they vote in extraordinarily high numbers, they are 6 to 8 percent of Florida’s turnout” - true, but not when it comes to Republican primaries. Another story highlights a survey according to which “52 percent of the state’s registered Jewish voters would support a Romney-led Republican presidential ticket.” Again, this doesn’t mean that the Jews interviewed for this poll will be voting in the primaries. A Forward blog post asks if Republican voters “will favor Romney or Gingrich”, an interesting question for which there will probably be no answer because of the small number of Jewish Republican voters.
Unless… unless we see a change in the number of Jewish voters in the Republican primaries - and that is really the most interesting question one should ask when the votes are counted next week: What is the percentage of Jewish voters among Florida’s primary voters?
If the percentage of Republican Jews is higher this year than in 2008; if more than 4-5% of the Republican Florida voters are Jewish - it will be an interesting sign that the Democratic ticket might be in more trouble with Jewish Floridians than expected. True, Jews can be registered Democrats and still vote for the Republican ticket in November.
So there’s good possibility that we will not see more Jews voting for Romney or Gingrich next week than the number voting for McCain or Giuliani in the 2008 primary cycle – and it would still not mean that Jewish Floridians are going to support Obama come November. However, if a fair number of Jews have changed their party registration to the Republican Party because of Obama (or for other reasons) and are now taking part in the Republican primary, it will be an indication that the Jewish vote of 2012 is going to be much different than the Jewish vote of 2008.