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Two Views of America: Unpacking the Jewish Vote, Up Front and in Person

by Steven Windmueller

August 10, 2012 | 10:43 am

Every voter has his/her own motivations and passions related to the nature of their vote.  Yet for 2012 two distinct viewpoints frame the collective “Jewish vote.” We can actually study these two political contrasts by exploring the stories of two individuals. For our purposes, we have “Naomi” and “Sam.”  So, let’s meet them:

Naomi lives in Southern California. She is a 30 something single professional. An Ohio native, Naomi came to Los Angeles following graduate school.

A businessman in his 60’s, Sam is a resident of Florida, who is married with three grown kids.  Sam has lived in South Florida all of his life. Following college, he opened his own construction and real estate firm.


Background:

Naomi’s family has long ties to the Democratic Party and to various social causes in Cleveland.

Sam is a first generation American. His parents were nominally “Democrats.”


Religious Affiliation:

Naomi grew up in the Conservative Movement but now is involved with an alternative Minyan.

A member of a Reform congregation, Sam in more recent years has become active in and supportive of Aish HaTorah.



Political Affiliation:

Describing herself as a “Liberal Democrat,” Naomi intends to support President Obama and volunteer for his campaign in one of the “swing” states this fall.

Switched party affiliations a number of years ago, Sam now considers himself a “Moderate Republican.” He has contributed this year to the Mitt Romney campaign and to the the Republican Jewish Coalition.



Israel:

Naomi is a J Street Supporter but has a broad set of political interests that align with her general liberal values.

Sam is a supporter of AIPAC and other Pro-Israel organizations, including Stand With Us.  Sam sees Israel’s security and well-being as a central political interest.


Liberal Causes

Naomi is active in an array of liberal initiatives that involve the environment, health care, international human rights, etc…  She tries to support organizations and causes that reflect her priorities.


Pro-Israel Priorities:  Sam supports a number of Jewish and civic groups that are focused on Israel and US security interests.


2008

Naomi supported Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination but supported Barack Obama in the fall campaign.

Sam had been a long time supporter of John McCain, so he was active on behalf of the Senator from the outset.


Friends:

For the most part, Naomi’s friends share her politics.

Sam’s friends are divided politically. A group of his friends share his political positions, yet a number are long standing Democrats; others are still uncertain how they will vote this fall.


Summary:

For both Naomi and Sam this election cycle has been particularly contentious as they each have encountered political conversations that they describe as difficult. Friendships in some cases have been strained, and conversations around Israel have been problematic. Sam has noted that dinner conversations frequently now avoid the “I” (Israel) word, while Naomi reported that she has witnessed scenes where name calling replaced civil discourse.

The political divide that we read about in American politics in general is also being played out within the American Jewish community, as clearly two distinctive political perspectives have emerged over Israel in particular and Jewish interests in more general terms. Probably many of us can identify with the above descriptions.

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