Mitt Romney and the Jewish Vote

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought”

Israel Hayom (most read daily Israel newspaper)
July 13, 2012

Republican Presidential candidate Romney’s July 2012 visit to Israel will underscore Romney’s appreciation of Israel’s enhanced strategic importance.  Israel’s unique contribution to the US national security is highlighted against the background of the increasingly violent, fragmented, unpredictable and unreliable, seismic “Arab Street;” the intensifying threats of radical Islam, Islamic terrorism and a nuclear Iran to US economic and national security interests; the withdrawal of the US from Iraq and Afghanistan; the upgraded profile of Russia and China in the Middle East; and the cuts in the US defense budget.

In addition, Governor Romney’s visit to Israel will reaffirm the critical role played by the Jewish vote in the November presidential and congressional elections. While the majority of US Jewry resides in New York (1.6 million) and California (1.2 million) – two solid Democratic states – the smaller Jewish communities – in the “toss up” states – could play a decisive role in determining the next President of the USA.  Moreover, while the Jewish population of New York (especially) and California is gradually decreasing, the Jewish population in some of the “swing states” is increasing.

The outcome of the 2000 presidential election was determined by less than 1,000 Jewish voters in Florida.  The outcome of the 2012 presidential election could be determined by the Jewish vote in three of the top seven electoral states, which are also “battleground states”: Florida (29 electors; Jewish population 650,000), Pennsylvania (20 electors; 300,000) and Ohio (18 electors; 150,000). 

Other “battleground states” with a critical mass of Jewish constituents are Virginia (13 electors; 100,000), Arizona (11 electors; 100,000), Colorado (9 electors; 100,000), Missouri (10 electors; 60,000), Nevada (6 electors; 80,000), North Carolina (15 electors; 30,000), Wisconsin (10 electors; 30,000) and possibly Michigan (16 electors; 85,000), Minnesota (10 electors; 50,000) and Indiana (11 electors; 20,000).

Since the seventeenth century, when the early Jewish migrants reached New Amsterdam (1621), Massachusetts (1649), Rhode Island (1658) and South Carolina (1695), US Jewry has been more interested in domestic and global politics than most Americans.  Therefore, Jews play a disproportionate role in national politics, demonstrating a higher turnout on election date than any other ethnic group. Thus, two percent of the population amounts to a four percent share of the presidential electorate.  Moreover, Jewish campaign contributions feature prominently, especially, in the most critical early stages of House and Senate races.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is no monolithic Jewish voting bloc. The Democrats have a lock on older straight-ticket Jewish constituents due to historical circumstances: Democratic Party openness to Jews since FDR’s grand New Deal coalition; Jewish concentration in the larger Democratic-dominated urban centers; Jewish association with labor unions; and Jewish identification with social causes and the underdog. 

However, younger Jews increasingly join the ranks of independent voters, who vote on the merit of the candidate, rather than the party. They are less-driven by the still-dominant social Jewish agenda: human services, abortion, Supreme Court appointments, illegal migration, state-church, school prayer, gay rights and affirmative action.  This trend is bolstered by demography, which features higher fertility rates among modern-orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews, who are conservatively-inclined.

Furthermore, as the number of Independent Jewish voters grows, so grows the critical mass of Jewish constituents – which could tilt the election in “bellwether states” – who are swayable when it comes to crucial Israeli and Jewish issues. For example, Republican President Eisenhower won 36% (1952) and 40% (1956) of the Jewish vote on the coattails of his role in crushing Nazi Germany and liberating Jews from the concentration camps.  Republican President Reagan received 39% of the Jewish vote in 1980, benefitting from his close ties with the Jewish community and from President Carter’s negative record on Israel. Republican President Bush #41 profited from Reagan’s pro-Israel reputation, and therefore received 35% of the Jewish vote in 1988. However, it plunged to 11% in 1992 due to the Bush-Baker scornful attitude toward Israel and the Jewish community.

Presidential candidate Romney attempts to leverage the new trend among Jewish voters. Will he follow in the footsteps of Eisenhower and Reagan, thus making a difference in some of the “battleground states?”



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