Did the Jewish Vote Cost Gore the Election?

It’s become a late-night talk show joke, but it truly appears a bunch of old Jews who forgot their reading glasses and accidentally voted for Hitler have led to the defeat of Al Gore.

Besides the famous confusion generated by the “butterfly ballot,” I’ve now also heard (though not from the media) that many people in Palm Beach were told they had only a few minutes to vote and rushed to get through all the races and initiatives and that this also caused problems. It is clear to any fair-minded observer that the exit polls were actually correct and most Floridians voted for Al Gore, but thousands of votes, many from Jews, were lost because of double voting, inadvertently punching the Buchanan chad or failing to sufficiently penetrate the Gore chad.

Forget Florida for a moment — and wouldn’t we all like to — and look at Gore’s overall success with Jewish voters. Jews comprise less than 3% of the population, but 4% of the voters in the exit polls. According to those polls, Gore won 79% of the Jewish vote, the highest total since 1968, though only a point higher than Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Given the opposition, I expected Gore to do better, but that would have only added a few votes to his victory in the popular tally and not changed the electoral college.

George W’s support from the Jews falls in between that of his father. Papa Bush actually did much better with the Jews in 1988, when he pulled in 27% of the Jewish vote against Dukakis. Then Jews saw the policies he adopted, however, and abandoned him in droves in 1992, giving him the lowest support (15%) for any Republican since Goldwater in 1964.

If you look at the 15 states (including the District of Columbia) that have the highest proportion of Jews, Gore won 11 (leaving Florida as undecided). Out of the top 12, Gore lost only Nevada, which was never a hotbed of Jewish activism. Among the crucial states Gore picked up with the help of these Jewish voters were New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Without Florida, Gore earned 187 electoral votes from those states.

The 12 states with the largest Jewish populations are worth 273 electoral votes, just enough to elect the president. Gore won 9 of 12, losing only Texas and Ohio (leaving Florida undecided). These states gave Gore 206 electoral votes. On the other hand, the margin of victory in those states was also nearly 15 points, with only Pennsylvania and Michigan below double-digits (a 4-point margin in each), so it is unlikely the Jewish vote had much affect on the outcome.

It is also clear that Gore would have won easily had it not been for Ralph Nader. We know the majority of his votes would have gone to the Vice President. Only about 1% of Nader’s vote came from Jews.

Most Republicans may disagree, but Gore should have won this election easily, and the Jewish vote contributed to his electoral success. It is unfortunate that what happened in Palm Beach may cost Gore the presidency, but he would not even be in the running there if not for the support he received from Jews whose ballots were counted.

If Bush is ultimately declared the victor, he certainly will not feel any obligation to the Jews based on their support for him at the polls. Hopefully, that reality will not affect his Middle East policymaking, but no one should be surprised if it does.

You would think the opposite would be true if Gore pulls it out, but that is not necessarily the case. While Gore should feel indebted to the Jewish community for helping him win, the irony is that he may feel, as many Democrats do, that the disproportionate support he received can be taken for granted. He won’t have to “pay off” the Jews because they’ll support him or any other Democrat no matter what. Given Gore’s positions and feeling toward Israel, he can be expected to adopt favorable policies, but the Israeli lobby’s influence over him may be far less than one might expect based on the Jewish vote.