Photo Credit: Illustration from Ruderman foundation position paper
Jewish American vote

With the 2020 U.S. presidential election campaign now in its final 100 days, the Ruderman Family Foundation on Tuesday released a position paper which unpacks the defining issues of what the paper describes as a “watershed” campaign for US Jewry’s deep engagement in the American political process and the centrality of that process to American Jewish identity.

The Ruderman Family Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation established in 2002 and managed by the Ruderman family.

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The Jewish Vote 2020: More Empowered Than Powerful,” authored by the Foundation and Prof. Gil Troy, Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University and an award-winning American presidential historian, highlights a wide array of notable data points from public opinion surveys conducted in recent years. For instance, while the overwhelming majority of American Jews identify as passionately pro-Israel – they don’t feel the need to express that feeling in the voting booth. That is why only 4 percent of Jewish voters identify Israel as their first or second-most important election issue. Instead, 43 percent prioritize health care, 28 percent gun violence, and 21 percent Social Security and Medicare.

In the final stages of the 2020 campaign, speculation has settled on now-ritualized questions from past presidential elections, including what impact the swing state Jews of Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania might have on the race’s actual outcome. Yet the Foundation’s position paper examines the unique attributes of this year’s campaign, including its status as a “watershed seemingly dividing pro-Trump Israeli Jews from anti-Trump American Jews.”

“Talk of this split emphasizes the growing perception that most American Jews are becoming more distant from Israel—whereas, in fact, they remain pro-Israel,” the paper states. “It highlights the widespread impression among some Jews and non-Jews that American Jews are single-issue voters, always voting for the most pro-Israel candidate—whereas in the voting booth most American Jews are actually more pro-choice and anti-Trump than pro-Israel. And it allows us to see that the real questions about ‘the Jewish vote’ do not revolve around the negligible impact Jews have on the final results every Election Day. Analyzing whom Jews vote for tells us more about why they vote than about what their vote achieves. It illuminates the ongoing and outsized role Jews play in the American political process—more empowered than all-powerful—as well as the ongoing and outsized role American politics plays in many American Jews’ identity, with many rooting their liberal politics in their Jewish heritage.”

The paper is divided into three parts. Part I looks at Jewish voting and giving patterns, summarizing how Jews punch far above their weight politically thanks to older, wealthier, educated voters in relevant regions. Part II explores the history of Jewish liberalism in America and suggests that while voting Democratic is often considered as central to the American Jewish inheritance as immigration, it evolved more gradually in three stages. Part III examines the ugly anti-Semitism that coursed through the 2016 campaign; the ongoing debate about President Barack Obama’s and President Donald Trump’s policies toward America, the Jews, and Israel; and some of the top items on the agenda as the 2020 campaign comes to a close.

“While the Jewish community’s participation in and attitudes toward the American political process have historically and routinely shaped American Jews’ identity, this year’s presidential campaign has carried unprecedented implications for that identity,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Accordingly, our position paper is rooted in the understanding that it is crucial for American Jewry to study the lessons of the 2020 election and allow those lessons to inform the community’s identity-building journey in the decades to come.”

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