Mitchell Bard 
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Reading the Minds of Jewish Voters

In 1916, Republican presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes won 45% of the Jewish vote, but lost the election. Four years later, Warren Harding won 43% of the Jewish vote and the presidency. Since then, Eisenhower (in 1956) is the only Republican who won as much as 40% of the Jewish vote. On average, Republicans have received less than 25% of Jewish votes since 1916. That could all change this year.

In 2000, George W. Bush received only 19% of the Jewish vote in large measure because Al Gore was viewed as a good friend of Israel and most Jews suspected Bush would inherit the policies of his father, which were widely regarded as the most hostile toward Israel since Eisenhower. Four years later, few Jews would question that President Bush’s policies toward Israel have been if not the most favorable in history, pretty darn close.

No one believes Bush will win a majority of the Jewish vote, but he has a good chance of reaching the levels achieved by Eisenhower, Harding, and Hughes. Jewish Republicans suggest there is a realignment taking place as Jews become more conservative, but Jews remain the most liberal group of voters other than African-Americans, and the constituency that is most likely to vote against its economic interests. Some of the data from the last midterm election supports the idea of a realignment, but it is too early to tell. If Bush does as well as many expect, it is less likely to be a result of a Jewish shift to the Republican Party, which still has social policies that do not sit well with most Jews, than because of their support for his approach to foreign policy and the lackluster Democratic alternatives.

The President, and the Republican Party in general, have also aggressively courted Jews in recent years. I know first-hand that the GOP and elder Bush had a very different view in the 1980's and early 1990's. They believed they could win without Jewish voters and didn’t really care about them, as famously expressed by James Baker’s “F- the Jews” comment.

The truth is the Jewish vote does matter. Though the Jewish population in the United States is roughly six million (about 2.3% of the total U.S. population), roughly 89% live in 12 key electoral college states. These states alone are worth enough electoral votes to elect the president. Therefore, it can make a difference in the outcome if the Jewish vote shifts.

A lot of folks have started to worry about the Arab/Muslim vote. The disproportionate influence of the American Jewish population is in direct contrast with the electoral involvement of Arab-Americans. There are approximately 1.2 million Arabs in the United States, and roughly 38 percent of them are Lebanese, primarily Christians, who tend to be unsympathetic to the Arab lobby’s goals.

Only about 70,000 Palestinians (6 percent of all Arab-Americans) live in the United States, but their views have received disproportionate attention because of their political activism. Similarly, a great deal of attention has focused on the allegedly growing political strength of Muslims in the United States, but fewer than one-fourth of all Arab-Americans are Muslims.

About half of the Arab population is concentrated in five states — California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York — that are all key to the electoral college. Still, the Arab population is significantly smaller than that of the Jews in every one of these states except Michigan.

Similarly, Jewish campaign contributions dwarf those of Arab-Americans. From 1990-2002, Arab and Muslim Political Action Committees contributed a total of less than $300,000. During the same period, pro-Israel PACS contributed nearly $20 million, and other donations totaled another $28 million. Arab-Americans are unquestionably more politically active then ever before, and while they have achieved increasing levels of access, there’s little evidence that this has translated into influence.

Jewish giving to the Democratic presidential candidates has been inhibited by Bush’s popularity as well as a reluctance to commit resources until there was a presumptive nominee. Now that John Kerry appears to be Bush’s opponent, most Jewish Democrats can be expected to coalesce behind him.

Kerry’s record in Congress has been good, but he has never been a leader on Israel-related issues. His major theme is the need for the United States to be more engaged in the peace process. Kerry’s suggestion that James Baker or Jimmy Carter would make good Middle East envoys (which he now blames on his staff), and his belief that envoys are likely to move the parties are troubling. Kerry has also suggested the security fence is “a barrier to peace” and seemed to equate Palestinians stopping terror with Israel freezing settlements.

Had Dean been nominated, it is possible that Bush could have broken the record for Jewish support; however, Jews do not find Kerry as scary. Still, large numbers of Jews are saying they will cast their first vote for a Republican this year and Bush should do much better than last time, but he will fall short of our old friend Charles Evans Hughes.