Jewish Journal


Why (some) Jews switched their vote from Dem to GOP, and vice versa

by Shmuel Rosner

December 30, 2012 | 7:40 am

A young attendee wears an Obama '08 yarmulke during the Democratic National Convention, September 5, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

There are no earth-shattering revelations in "What’s the Matter with Palm Beach County?" - a paper about the 2012 Jewish vote prepared by Eric Uslaner, a professor of the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. But it's a coherent and interesting paper. Uslaner is scheduled to present the paper at a conference in Herzliya two weeks from now, but you can read it online. I'm not going to go through the many details included in the paper – it basically says that Jews are Jews are Democratic voters are Jews – I'll just highlight one part that I thought was one of the better parts. 

Uslaner looked specifically at the data gathered in the J Street survey of Jewish voters. It is a survey about which I wrote at some length in the past, and also the one I was discussing with Jim Gerstein (Jim, we're still awaiting your response to our second question!). And more specifically, he analyzed the positions of the "only 40 voters" who shifted between 2008 to 2012 from voting for Obama to voting for Romney, and the 19 voters who switched from voting McCain in 2008 to voting Obama in 2012 – that is, all the voters in this poll who changed their vote from Democratic to Republican or vice versa.

"With just 59 switchers, analyzing vote change is imprecise", Uslaner writes. "Recognizing the hazards involved, I present some data on the roots of switching". Table number 7 of the study is the one in which one can find the available reasons for the "shift". But one has to be careful with the numbers presented in this table as "only two of the measures I used in the model… reach statistical significance". The two measures: "Jewish voters who shifted to Romney were more negative on the direction of the country and more positively disposed to the Tea Party". Take a look at the table followed by some more of the things Uslaner says about it:



Shifters to Romney

Shifters to Obama


Direction of US




Tea Party thermometer




Favor Palestinian state




Favor US role in talks




UN treats Israel fairly




Saw anti-Obama Israel ads




Health 1st or 2nd most important




Israel 1st or 2nd most important





Here's Uslaner with the inevitable conclusion:

None of the issues relating to Israel or the Middle East even approached significance, nor did the importance of the health care issue. Obama lost some support among Jewish voters upset over the state of the economy. This is consistent with the cross-sectional results of the exit polls (see Table 2 for the source) showing that 84 percent of respondents who saw the country moving in the wrong direction voted for Romney, and that 93 percent who believed that the country was going in the right direction supported the president. Neither party’s candidates lost many supporters: 52 percent of the switchers were Independents, compared to 27 percent of the full sample. Two thirds of Jewish voters defecting to Romney were either Independents or Republicans. Despite all of the efforts of Republicans and outside groups to persuade Jewish voters that Obama was not a supporter of Israel, there is little evidence that even the small number of switchers were motivated by Middle East policy.

However: "Voters who said that Israel was one of the two most important problems were more likely to shift to Obama". How many such cases are there? Uslaner (in Table 4) shows that there were eight cases (out of 720) of respondents saying that "Israel [is the] first or second most important problem, oppose Palestinian state, see the UN as unfair to Israel, oppose US role in Israeli-Palestinian peace process". Of these eight, six supported Romney. That's not surprising. As you can see in J Street's cross tabs, 17% of the Jewish Romney voters put Israel as the number one or number two issue for them as they went to the polls, compared to 7% of the Jewish Obama vote.

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