Here we are fourteen weeks into our series on Jewish voting habits, and the Monitor admits to having no single satisfactory answer to why Jews are still, after all these years, in such utter thrall to the Democratic party.
We’ve touched, both in this particular series and in some prior columns that addressed the subject, on some of the historical reasons usually given for the phenomenon: Immigrants falling under the sway of big city Democrat bosses and passing the legacy down to their children and grandchildren; left-wing movements, after first enticing Jews in Europe, gaining important footholds in the early 20th-century American Jewish community; Jewish Americans moving into professional fields (civil service, education, law) where voting Democrat was socially and culturally de rigueur; non-Orthodox movements within Judaism seizing on secular liberalism and confusing it with divine revelation.
We’ve also looked at how Jews have voted in presidential contests going back more than 80 years, noting the tedious predictability of the Jewish vote since the election of 1924 and how even when the choice comes down, as it did in 1972 and 1980, to a pro-Israel Republican versus a coolly indifferent or borderline hostile Democrat, most Jews have shown themselves to be constitutionally incapable of voting for the GOP.
But while each of the explanations we’ve cited may have its own degree of merit, and while taken together they may provide an interesting glimpse into the collective psyche of the American Jewish community, the Great Mystery remains just that.
The fact is, it’s 2002, seventy years after the New Deal and thirty years after the McGovernization of the Democratic party, and yet Jews – the most affluent subgroup in America – still vote as if they’re one step ahead of the bread lines and the evict notices.
This series owed its genesis to a Gallup poll taken in September which suggested that, one year after the 9/11 attacks and despite the Bush administration’s strong support for Israel, Jews were not exactly falling all over themselves in support of the president.
The results were understandably disappointing to Republicans, who were still buzzing about another Gallup poll taken earlier in the year. That survey had found support for Israel considerably stronger among Republicans than Democrats throughout the U.S., with the highest level of pro-Israel sentiment in the South, the most Republican section of the country.
Now, it happens that a careful reading of the September Gallup poll reveals that Jewish support for Bush had in fact risen considerably in the months immediately following 9/11 and was still appreciably higher than it had been pre-9/11.
In fact, Bush’s approval rating among Jews in that Gallup survey was 66 percent – lower than his numbers among Protestants (81 percent) and Catholics (82 percent), but remarkably high for a Republican who just two years ago won less than 20 percent of the Jewish vote.
And the survey also showed a growing number of Jews identifying themselves as independents – not a good sign for Democrats because, as political strategist Marshall Wittman pointed out, “Jews have been overwhelmingly Democratic in identification over the years….Any weakening of that identification has to be good for the Republicans.”
Another indication that Republican fortunes may be on the upswing in terms of increased Jewish support comes from a November survey by McLaughlin & Associates which found that in a hypothetical 2004 rematch Bush trailed Al Gore among Jews by a relatively thin 47-36 percent margin, and was actually running ahead of Gore with Jews in Florida, of all places.
Of course, that particular match up is a moot question now that Gore has chosen not to run, but the poll does indicate that Bush is poised to do considerably better with Jewish voters in 2004 than the typical Republican presidential candidate.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org