Jews Will Elect The President

One might argue that in a close election any constituency can determine the outcome, but this isn’t entirely true because it is the groups that have the most impact in large states, and battleground states, that will swing the election. Though Jews comprise only about 2% of the total U.S. population, roughly 89% live in 12 key states with enough electoral votes to determine the next president. Analysts have identified three states, in particular, as the key to this election, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. In those states, Jews make up 3.9%, 1.3% and 2.3% of the population, respectively.

Most Jews are not single issue voters, but Israel certainly is a concern. Bush has objectively been the most pro-Israel president in history. One way to attack him is to suggest that he might not remain that way in a second term. It’s always a possibility, but Bush’s support for Israel is driven by his ideology, not his political interests; therefore, it is likely he will continue to insist that the Palestinian Authority institute reforms and cease violence before requiring Israel to make any dramatic compromises.

John Kerry has had a flawless record in the Senate on Israel, though he is not known for taking a leadership role on any of the issues. During the campaign, he, like Bush, has said everything pro-Israel activists would like him to say. The one faux pas occurred early in the campaign when he suggested that he would appoint an envoy to the Middle East, and that Jimmy Carter and James Baker were among the people he’d consider for the job. He subsequently backed away from this idea, but he does differ with the President in terms of how directly engaged he believes the United States should be in the peace process, favoring more American involvement. Just as partisan Democrats acknowledge Bush’s pro-Israel record, Republicans admit President Kerry would be a friend of Israel.

The more fundamental difference on policy toward Israel is more indirect; that is, their broader foreign policy visions. Kerry believes more in multilateralism, working with allies and the UN, whereas Bush is more of a unilateralist. Both approaches can impact Israel. It is possible to offer a variety of opinions on whether this will be positive or negative. For example, one might argue that Bush’s unilateralism on Iraq has benefitted Israel by eliminating a major threat to its security. Kerry supporters might suggest that it would have been better to mobilize an alliance to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Though a lot of attention has been given to the question of whether Jews have realigned, there was never any question how most Jews were going to vote. Other than African-Americans, Jews are the most liberal group in the country and most loyal to the Democratic Party. Jews also consistently vote against their pocketbooks. Jews rank higher than average on the socioeconomic scale and, logically, should tilt toward the Republicans, but their liberal values take precedence in their political decisions and that is why roughly three-quarters of Jews lean toward the Democrats.

Jews who have more conservative views on the U.S. role in the world, what we used to call “Scoop Jackson Democrats,” may lean toward Bush. Traditional liberal Jewish Democrats who have become more security conscious may also lean to Bush (based on Bush polling better on the issue), but most of these folks will be counterbalanced by those who are more comfortable with Kerry’s domestic policies.

Before the 2000 election I wrote that “it would be a shock if George W. Bush received 20% of the Jewish vote, but whether he receives 15% or 25% could determine the outcome.” He came out almost in the middle, receiving 19%, and it was just enough.

Incidentally, in that election, 45% of Arab-Americans voted for Bush, 38% for Al Gore, and 13% for Ralph Nader. Even if Arab-Americans vote as a bloc, their influence is marginal, and restricted to a handful of states. About half of the Arab population is concentrated in five states, and only one is likely to be in play in 2004 — Florida — and the Arab population is dwarfed by that of the Jews in every one of these states except Michigan. In Florida, the Jewish population is approximately 600,000, compared to fewer than 50,000 Arab-Americans. Polls do indicate Bush losing support in the Arab-American community, and, with Nader less of a factor, many of his votes are likely to go to Kerry this time.

Polls, especially those commissioned by Democrats, also suggest Bush won’t do much better with the Jewish community than he did in 2000, though at least one survey showed him getting about 24% of the Jewish vote. During lectures around the country; however, many Jews have told me this is the first election they will vote for a Republican. Although support for Bush has probably slipped in recent weeks as Kerry has gained credibility, and the economy and the situation in Iraq are perceived to have deteriorated, my gut feeling is that Bush will do better than expected. But even if he does much worse, remember that he lost the popular vote and won the electoral college with less than one-fifth of the Jewish vote.

Just for the fun of it, I’ll predict that Bush again loses the popular vote, but gets 28% of the Jewish vote to swing the electoral college in his favor and keep him in the White House. I’m sure I’ll hear about it if I’m wrong.