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January 25, 2012

Kenneth Wald: Republican Jewish Floridians pretty much committed to Romney

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/jewish_republicans_are_pretty_much_committed_to_romney_over_gingrich_201201/

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Prof. Kenneth D. Wald

Kenneth D. Wald, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, discusses the Jewish vote in Florida – their political differences to the rest of U.S. Jewish voters, whether the Jewish vote could tip the election results and if Florida’s Jewish electorate would consider voting for a Republican president.

Do Jews living in Florida tend to be politically different than Jews in other parts of the country? How?

I have to be honest and acknowledge that I do not have access to any recent polling data that would enable me to give definitive answers to your questions. I’m sure the private pollsters do. What would normally be the best source, the 2010 National Exit Poll, really cut back by asking a religious affiliation question on only one of its 8 ballot forms. So there weren’t enough Jews to say anything reliable.

That being said, I’ve seen no evidence that Florida Jews are politically different from Jews elsewhere. On the whole, Florida Jews vote heavily Democratic for president and down ballot and all but one Jew in state elected positions are Democrats. (I’m not 100% sure of the latter figure but closer to 90%.) That’s not altogether surprising because Florida Jews are quite likely to trace their descent from the Northeast rather than the South. My students at UF are largely New Yorkers by way of Miami.

What should we watch for in the Republican primary that can teach us something about the current political moods of Jewish Floridians?

Because Florida has a closed primary where only registered Republicans can vote, I doubt there will be enough Jewish Republicans voting to matter much. Latinos will be much more important because of their numbers and, among the Cubans, their decided Republican preference.

Can Jews really tip election results in Florida? How close do we need the race to be in order for them to do that?

Jews are typically considered around 2-3% of the Florida electorate and are unlikely to tip any normal election at the state level.

Romney or Gingrich, does it even matter to Jewish voters?

I imagine Jewish Republicans are pretty much committed to Mitt Romney over Gingrich. Romney’s business background, executive experience in government, and apparently unblemished personal history contrast sharply with Gingrich’s lack of background in business, reputation as a bombthrower, and serial adultery. Some Jewish Republicans will have trouble with Romney’s Mormonism—less so than evangelicals to be sure—but I think the fact that he was not an aggressive social conservative in Massachusetts will outweigh that consideration.

Last week I asked my Israel Factor panel to take a wild guess and forecast the Jewish vote in 2012 (you can see it here). What’s your forecast?

I never predict without data so consider this a musing. If economic signs continue to turn in a favorable direction - and the Euro crisis makes that an uncertain outcome - Jewish voters will be more Democratic than many commentators think. I think Obama’s supposed animus against Israel is a figment of the imagination of those Jews who have long been right wing Republicans and thus unlikely to matter much.  I wouldn’t be shocked if Obama’s Jewish vote hits 70% in 2012. Some recent reanalysis suggests it was about 74-75% in 2008 so that wouldn’t be a drop. But if the Eurozone brings down the American economy, all bets are off.

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