With Republican leaders predicting a massive shift of Jewish voters away from President Barack Obama this November, a new study shows just how reliably Democratic Jewish voters are.
The study, conducted by Democratic pollsters Mark Mellman and Aaron Strauss with University of Florida professor Kenneth Wald, analyzed exit poll data from 1972-2008 and found that Jews vote for Democrats in far higher numbers than the rest of the electorate. Furthermore, most Jews (57 percent in 2008) identify as Democrats, and many identify as liberals – 45 percent in 2008, far higher than the overall rate among Americans, 22 percent of whom identified as liberals in a Gallup poll taken that year.
The new study (pdf), which was released by the Solomon Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit, comes after months of speculation about the decline in Jewish support for Obama. It also found that Obama only received 74 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, not the 78 percent that was found by a survey of only Jewish voters and that has been oft-repeated by both supporters and opponents of the President.
In what is perhaps its most significant conclusion, the study found that American Jewish voting in presidential elections can be divided into two distinct eras:
In the first period, from 1972 through 1988, Republican candidates for president attracted between 31 percent and 37 percent of the Jewish vote. In the second period, from 1992 through 2008, the GOP share of the Jewish vote dropped to between 15 percent and 23 percent.
The trend becomes starker still when votes for third-party candidates are excluded. Considering only the Jewish Americans who voted for one of the two major party’s presidential candidates, Republicans got between 31 and 46 percent of Jewish votes in that first period and between 16 and 24 percent in the second one.
What changed, the pollsters conclude, is that the Republican party, “became more strongly influenced by the religious right during the early 1990s.” As “Republican candidates at all levels increasingly aligned themselves with the evangelical community,” they write, Jews and mainline Protestants headed elsewhere.
Will Jews buck this decades-long trend of supporting the Democratic presidential candidate support this year?
In a word: no.
The most recent Gallup poll shows Obama taking 64 percent of Jewish registered voters to Republican Mitt Romney’s 29 percent, according to Politico. Obama’s number is 10 points lower than the 74 percent of Jews who voted for him in 2008, but it’s still in the range of Jews who have voted Democratic in the earlier era, between 1972 and 1988.
Still, as my colleague Shmuel Rosner wrote in a recent blog post, even if this tiny fraction of the American electorate (there are about 6 million Jews in America) won’t have much of an impact on the presidential election in November, “Jews are news.”
And as this study shows, that news happens to be of the “Dog Bites Man” variety.
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