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October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish voters’

Jews And The Democratic Treadmill

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
Two weeks ago, in a column on Jewish voting patterns, the Monitor pointed to the 1984 election as evidence “that a Republican presidential candidate, whether incumbent or challenger and no matter how strong his record on Israel, will always lose among Jewish voters when the alternative is a liberal Democrat without any pronounced or well-known hostility to Israel.”
Several readers argued that the 1972 election illustrates even more starkly the Jewish proclivity for voting Democrat – and they’re probably right. At least the Democratic candidate in 1984 was a known and comfortable commodity to pro-Israel Jewish voters, which was decidedly not the case in 1972.
The Democratic nominee in ’72 was the extremely liberal South Dakota senator George McGovern, a man who had not exactly carved a name for himself as a defender of Israel and who exemplified the type of guilt-driven liberalism that captured the Democratic party that year (and would lead it to disaster in every presidential election save one over the next 16 years).
McGovern challenged Richard Nixon, who’d never been a popular figure in the Jewish community and who garnered just 17 percent of the Jewish vote in 1968 when he defeated then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey. But Nixon during his first four years in the White House compiled a generally solid record on Israel. U.S. policymakers began to take seriously Israel’s value as an American asset in the region, and military aid to Israel rose to unprecedented levels.
Israeli leaders left no doubt as to their preference. Prime Minister Golda Meir considered Nixon the most supportive U.S. president since Israel’s creation in 1948, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, the former IDF chief of staff and future prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, openly hoped for a Nixon victory.
But though it was clear throughout the campaign that McGovern would not attain the stratospheric Jewish support Democrats had come to consider their birthright, it was equally clear that the bulk of the Jewish community would remain loyal to the Democratic standard bearer.
As in prior elections, Jewish organizational leaders such as the Washington fixture Hyman Bookbinder made no secret of their Democratic sympathies. The McGovern campaign’s Jewish liaison, Richard Cohen, returned after the election to his job as public relations director at the American Jewish Congress; McGovern campaign director Frank Mankiewicz was a former employee of the Anti-Defamation League.
Barbra Streisand, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter Falk, Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Leonard Nimoy and scores of other Jewish celebrities enthusiastically gave their time and money to the Democratic candidate.
As Stephen Isaacs described it in his 1974 book Jews and American Politics, “despite problems with affirmative action plans-cum-quotas, the ‘urban fever zone,’ scatter site housing, community control of schools, an inept Democratic presidential campaign – despite all these things and more – the Jewish bloc vote did hold up” for McGovern, who won the votes of 65 percent of American Jews – this while Nixon was crushing McGovern among the general electorate in a landslide of historic proportions.
While Nixon doubled his share of the Jewish vote from the paltry 17 percent he received four years earlier, the startling fact remains that McGovern actually did better among Jews than had Adlai Stevenson – an old favorite of Jewish voters and an icon of mid-twentieth century liberalism – in 1952 and 1956.
Given Nixon’s record on Israel and the plaudits of Israeli leaders, his moderate domestic agenda, and an unimpressive Democratic nominee with no strong ties to the Jewish community, the 1972 election was as clear a signal as any that the majority of Jewish voters were (are) driven by a combination of old habits and a religious-like devotion to liberalism rather than a primary concern for Israel or narrowly defined Jewish interests.

A year later, as the Yom Kippur War raged, Nixon went against the State and Defense Department bureaucracies and directed the massive military airlift that saved Israel from impending catastrophe. Had two-thirds of American Jewish voters gotten their way, the man sitting in the Oval Office during Israel’s time of unprecedented peril would have been President George McGovern.

The Debate Over Obama

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
            In case you haven’t yet had the pleasure, you can read Commentary’s latest symposium, “Obama, Israel & American Jews: The Challenge” on the magazine’s website (www.commentarymagazine.com).
            Prominent American Jews ranging from Alan Dershowitz to Abraham Foxman to Ed Koch were asked give their take on the challenge posed to Israel and the U.S. Jewish community by the tone and policies of the Obama administration, and whether those policies will lead Jewish voters to reconsider their support of the president and his party.
Most of the respondents were skeptical about American Jews’ readiness to abandon the Democratic ship. As former AIPAC executive director Morris J. Amitay puts it: “For Jewish American Obama supporters, the time for giving this administration the benefit of the doubt should be over . A great deal of the responsibility for getting the administration back on the right course, for both Israel and America, now falls on Obama’s Jewish supporters, who must make their concerns known .
“I would be pleasantly surprised if my liberal co-religionists were up to this task – but I fear that I will be disappointed.”
Much of the pessimism voiced in the symposium was based on the fact that Jewish voters knew all about Obama’s past personal and political associations and voted for him anyway.
“Sure, Obama mouthed a few bromides about Israel’s security during the campaign,” writes syndicated columnist Mona Charen, “but Jewish voters, like other Americans, were aware that this candidate’s history was uniquely hostile to Israel. They knew of Obama’s tame attendance at Jeremiah Wright’s church (which gave Louis Farrakhan a ‘lifetime achievement award’ and offered space in its bulletin to Hamas). They were aware of his friendships with Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi and of his affection for Third World causes .”
Though Charen concludes that “Arguably, Israel’s security was not a high priority for the 78 percent of Jews who voted for Obama,” she notes that “Israel has better friends in America than American Jews. A 2008 poll found that 82 percent of American Christians believed they had a ‘moral and Biblical’ obligation to support Israel (including 89 percent of evangelicals). A 2010 Gallup survey found that 85 percent of Republicans sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians. The figure for Democrats was 48 percent . If Israel’s relationship with its most important ally depended only on American Jews, a frightening situation would be even worse.”
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby concurs with Charen that “Long before his election as president, it was clear that Barack Obama felt little of the traditional American warmth for Israel or any particular repugnance for the enemies that Israel and America have in common . Yet many American Jews chose to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, telling themselves that he could be numbered, as Alan Dershowitz wrote at the time, ‘among Israel’s strongest supporters.’ Only the willfully blind could believe that now. And many American Jews are willfully blind .”
As to whether most American Jews would abandon a Democratic presidential nominee because of his or her perceived animus toward Israel, Jacoby responds: “There is no reason to think so . Reams of data confirm that solidarity with Israel is now far stronger among Republicans and conservatives than among Democrats and liberals. That is why if they are forced to choose between standing with Israel and standing with the Democratic Party, many American Jews will simply deny that any choice must be made.”
For Jonathan Kellerman, bestselling novelist and professor of clinical pediatrics and psychology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, “The only surprise about the tension between the Obama administration and Israel is that anyone is surprised . The greater issue isn’t that Obama is no great friend of Israel and never will be. The fascinatingly perverse tendency of Jews to vote against their self-interest is. Even with my psychological training, I don’t understand it. However, it is nothing new.
“Our history is rife with fractiousness and the tendency to over-intellectualize and to complicate simple issues of self-preservation. To some extent, our ability to promote an infinite array of opinions has contributed to the richness of our culture. Often, however, it has lead to tragedy. Let’s not forget that it was a certain group of Jews that invited the Romans into Jerusalem.”

These selected quotes merely scratch the surface. Set aside some time to read the entire symposium – a few of the 31 respondents actually attempt a defense of Obama, and their comments may well be the most enlightening if only because they illustrate the weakness of the pro-Obama side of the debate.

 

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Why Obama Will Sweep The 2012 Jewish Vote

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of a Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating has fallen to just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out in a front-page story in last week’s Jewish Press, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent – a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

As the Monitor argued earlier this week on Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog, Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: He’s a well-spoken, non-threatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right.

To put that into historical context, let’s look back at the presidential election of 1984. For a Republican, Ronald Reagan had done exceedingly well among Jews in 1980, winning 39 percent of their votes and holding the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, to an unimpressive plurality of 45 percent. (Third-party candidate John Anderson got the rest.) And then came the 1984 National Survey of American Jews, conducted between April and August that year, which found that while 39 percent of respondents acknowledged voting for Reagan in 1980, some 53 percent said that, looking back, Reagan was the candidate they would have preferred.

Reagan seemed poised to at least hold on to his 1980 share of the Jewish vote – and quite possibly exceed it.

In addition to Reagan’s performance in office, there was, in 1984, the Jesse Jackson factor. The longtime civil rights activist was running for the Democratic nomination, and during the course of the campaign many of his past derogatory comments about Jews and Israel resurfaced, fueled both by his reference, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation, to New York City as “Hymietown” and his reluctance to separate himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The Jackson factor was widely thought to threaten the Democratic Party’s decades-old hold on Jewish loyalties, particularly when a Los Angeles Times poll of African American delegates at the 1984 Democratic National Convention revealed that 75 percent of the delegates pledged to Jackson and almost 50 percent of those backing eventual nominee Walter Mondale felt no need to distance themselves from Farrakhan or his statements.

Come November, however, Reagan actually ended up losing significant ground among Jewish voters. “Exit polls taken the day of the election,” wrote Charles Silberman in his 1985 book A Certain People, “indicated that no more than 35 percent of American Jews, and perhaps as few as 31 percent, had voted for Reagan; the Jewish vote for Mondale was put at 65-69 percent … analysis of the polls indicated that between 25 and 35 percent of the Jews who had voted for Reagan in 1980 switched to Mondale in 1984.”

Reagan’s increasingly vocal embrace of the New – specifically, the Christian – Right scared Jews more than anything said by either Jackson or Farrakhan. Nearly 80 percent of Jews had an unfavorable opinion of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the most visible face of the Christian Right (never mind that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had presented Falwell with the Jabotinsky Prize in recognition of his strong support of the Jewish state.) In fact, Silberman noted, “more Jewish voters indicated an unfavorable opinion of Falwell than of Jesse Jackson.”

How does this relate to Obama and Jewish support? For one thing, the Republican Party’s identification with the Christian Right is immeasurably stronger today than it was 25 years ago, making it unlikely that liberal or moderate Jews will find a comfort level with the GOP anytime soon. For another, the current generation of American Jews is not nearly as supportive of Israel and Israeli policies as were their parents and grandparents – and support for Israel was the one factor that in the past might have swayed some liberal Jews to vote for a Republican.

If Jimmy Carter, fresh off a disastrous four years in office and displaying a palpable animus toward Israel, could still outpoll his Republican opponent among Jews (and absent the Anderson candidacy Carter probably would have won at least 55 percent of the Jewish vote), there’s no reason to believe even a mediocre Democratic president – particularly if he’s a likeable African American who talks a good liberal game – need worry about Jewish voters.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Polls: Obama Making Big Gains Among Jewish Voters

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama is making significant gains among Jewish voters, according to two polls released last week.


  The polls suggest that after months of hovering around 60 percent, Obama appears to be within striking distance of the 75-80 percent of the Jewish vote won by the three previous Democratic nominees for president.


  A Gallup tracking poll of 564 Jewish registered voters, taken over the first three weeks of October, found Obama leading Republican John McCain by a 74-22 percent margin. That was a 13-point increase in support for the Democratic nominee since Gallup’s July poll, which had Obama leading 61-34 percent.


  Gallup also released Jewish data from tracking polls in the two previous months showing a steady rise for Obama. The Illinois senator garnered 66 percent in August and 69 percent in September, with McCain at 25 percent for both months. The margin of error for the October survey is plus or minus 5 percent.


  Meanwhile, a Qunnipiac University poll taken Oct. 16-21 in Florida found Obama winning 77 percent of Jewish voters in that state to just 20 percent for McCain.


  While the Jewish statistic in the latter poll was based on a relatively small sample size of 87, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 10.5 percent, the finding is notable because some leading Jewish Democrats in the state had publicly worried this summer about resistance to Obama among South Florida Jews.


  Some Democratic operatives say concerns over Obama’s lack of experience seem to have been overtaken in some Jewish voters’ minds by worries over the inexperience of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, as well as the Alaska governor’s conservative political views on hot-button social issues such as abortion.


  An American Jewish Committee survey in early September found that just 34 percent of the Jewish community approved of McCain’s pick for running mate, with 57 percent disapproving.


  Jewish feelings appear to match those in the overall electorate toward Palin. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found 55 percent of voters believe Palin is not qualified to serve as president. Her lack of qualifications was seen in the poll as the biggest concern about a McCain presidency.


  Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, rejected the idea that Palin – who has voiced staunch support for Israel and a hard line on Iran – was a factor in the recent swing toward Obama among Jewish voters. “I don’t believe this has anything to do with Sarah Palin whatsoever,” he said. “Nobody I know is voting for vice president.”


  Brooks attributed McCain’s decline in the Jewish community to the “volatility” in the electorate during the recent economic crisis. He argued that as Obama gained ground in the country as a whole in recent weeks, he naturally also gained ground among Jews. Saying he expected the race to tighten nationally, Brooks predicted that McCain’s numbers in the Jewish community would bounce back as well.


  The Palin pick may have nullified McCain’s greatest strength in the Jewish community, Democratic observers said.


  Some suggested that earlier in the campaign, McCain was more appealing to Jews than other Republican presidential candidates because of his strained relations with the religious right over the years and his moderate record on a variety of issues, from embryonic stem-cell research to immigration.


  Palin, conversely, is more line with the thinking of religious conservatives and has been embraced by that group.       

(JTA)

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