In his article about Jewish Republican David Storobin’s efforts to be elected to the New York State Senate next month, Ross Kaminsky notes that the only GOP presidential candidate to earn 40% of the Jewish vote since Warren Harding in 1920 was when Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956. However, Ronald Reagan did come quite close to that figure in 1980 when he earned 39% of the Jewish vote in his landslide victory over Jimmy Carter. It was the first time a Democratic presidential candidate had received less than 50% of the Jewish vote since James Cox could only muster 19% of the Jewish vote in 1920. Socialist Eugene Debs received twice as many Jewish votes.
Although Reagan lost some of the Jewish vote in 1984 he still managed to garner 31% of it. In 1988, George H.W. Bush recevied 35% of the Jewish vote although four years later it would collapse to 11%, representing the lowest total received by any GOP candidate since Barry Goldwater attained 10% of the Jewish vote despite the fact his father was Jewish. Of course, some of that owed to the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot but a lot of that decline was due to the elder Bush’s overt hostility towards Israel. Arguably the greatest foreign policy differential between Bush 41 and Bush 43 was over Israel. Indeed, George W. Bush actually picked up Jewish support in 2004 going from 19% to 24%. In 2008, John McCain won 22% of the Jewish vote against 78% for Barack Obama.
Over the past five presidential elections, Democratic candidates have been able to rely on between 75% to 80% of the voting age Jewish population to support them. That’s not as high as FDR who received between 80% to 90% of the Jewish vote even though he didn’t lift a finger to rescue Jews persecuted in Europe during the WWII despite the best efforts of his Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. Still, Jews remain a reliable constituency for Democrats and I suspect this will be the case in 2012 although I don’t think Obama gets 78% of the Jewish vote this time around.
There is no doubt that President Obama’s anti-Israel posture hasn’t done him any favors but it probably won’t hurt him all that much either. I suspect this in part because Obama hasn’t said much about Israel recently and has let others in the Administration do the talking for him most notably Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Unless Obama steps into the breach again close to election time (which is a possibility where it concerns Israel and Iran) much of what Obama has said about Israel will have been forgotten. There are, of course, many Jews who simply don’t care about Israel and aren’t particularly concerned about Iran’s intentions toward the Jewish State as demonstrated in this 2010 interview Bill O’Reilly conducted with Jon Stewart. Indeed, some Jews engage in moral equivalence between Israel and terrorist organizations like Hamas as has Stewart himself.
This isn’t to say that Jews are particularly pleased with Obama where it concerns Israel. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz comes to mind as he recently likened Media Matters to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Dershowitz has gone as far as to say, “The Obama Administration cannot have Media Matters and me or people who look to me for advice. We cannot be in the same tent. The tent is not big enough to include us.” Well, to start with, Reverend Wright didn’t stop Obama from being elected and if Obama’s association with Reverend Wright didn’t stick why would his association with Media Matters? Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine the likes of Dershowitz voting for Romney, Santorum or Gingrich, never mind Ron Paul. To the extent that there are liberal Jews who are offended by Obama’s anti-Israel policies, I think it’s far more likely that they would stay home rather than vote Republican. Of course, if enough Democrats were to stay home on election day it could cost Obama the election but it still isn’t the same thing as voting Republican.
So why don’t Jews vote Republican in large numbers? The most fundamental reason is that many Jews believe (fairly or not) that Republicans are hostile towards racial minorities, women, immigrants (be they legal or illegal) and the LGBTG community. Many Jews intrinsically identify with groups who are seen as being on the short end of the stick and see themselves (and in some cases members of their family) in their position and thus feel compelled to speak out and act on their behalf. As Rabbi Hillel asked, “If I am only for myself, than what am I?” In the grand scheme of things, it is only natural to wonder, “Well, if Republicans don’t like gays and lesbians then what do they think of me?” Now I happen to think some of that thinking is unfair especially where it concerns racial minorities although I do think there’s credence to it when it comes to the LGBTG community.
Nevertheless, while many Jews keep Rabbi Hillel’s second question in mind, in so doing they forget his first and most important question, “If I am not for myself, then who is for me?” For Jewish voters sympathetic both to Israel and gay rights, it is worth remembering that both President Obama and Rick Santorum think marriage should be between a man and a woman. With this in mind, would you rather hedge your bets with Rick Santorum who has stood up for Israel while having spent years warning us about Iran long before making its nuclear ambitions known? Or would you rather stick with President Obama who is angrier at Israel for building housing in Jerusalem than he is at Iran for building a nuclear weapon?