The Jewish Vote in 2012

by John Sides on December 20, 2012 · 3 comments

in Campaigns and elections

The Republicans had high hopes for winning a larger share of the Jewish vote in 2012 than they did in 2008. They scored a minor victory by increasing their vote share by five percent. Most Jews who deserted Obama did not desert the Democratic President because of Israel. As with all voters, there was significant economic discontent in the country. This dissatisfaction was not sufficient to deprive the President a second term. Considering the state of the economy and the level of polarization in the country, Obama’s four percent margin of victory among all voters seems remarkable. The Republican failure to make inroads with the Jewish vote may be even more remarkable. Yet it should have been predictable.

That is from a new paper by Eric Uslaner.  Here is more:

The attempt to frame the election as a referendum, at least in the Jewish community, about Israel, failed since Jews are not single issue voters. Nor did Israel loom large as a determinant of vote choice. Support for Israel has traditionally been bipartisan…Why, then, did Jews support President Obama in 2012? For the same reasons that they have voted Democratic for many years–as liberals and especially as a minority that worries about how minorities fare. Yet, this “insecurity” did not extend to support for Israel. And with little difference in the policies of the two parties on this issue, there was little reason to make support of Israel a central voting issue, especially since American Jews are as dovish on the Middle East as they are liberal on social issues.

As I noted here, news stories in both 2008 and 2012 hyped the potential for Jewish voters to vote Republican in higher numbers, but with only meager evidence for the hype.  The point isn’t really about Jewish voters: it’s that party coalitions do not change dramatically from election to election.  (Even the increase in Democratic support among Latinos since 2004 may be overstated because of a bad exit poll sample of Latinos in 2004.)  And when candidates appear to be “losing votes” among any particular group relative to a previous election, they are often losing votes among multiple groups.  Their problems are systematic—e.g., “an economy problem,” not “a Jewish problem,” as I wrote about Obama in 2011.  That’s a less interesting story, perhaps, but it’s usually closer to the truth.

{ 3 comments }

Wonks Anonymous December 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm

The paper notes that Jews have voted Democratic since the New Deal. In fact, I recall seeing a similar percentage of their votes going to the Dem candidate in 1928 (Al Smith vs Herbert Hoover) as for Obama in 2008. Smith (the first Catholic presidentail nominee) at the time was supposed to be the candidate of immigrant-heavy “wet” urban areas. I have not seen data for any previous election.

Andrew Gelman December 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Let me reiterate that any battle over the Jewish vote is really a battle over Jewish money and Jewish media influence. There are not many Jewish voters, and they most live in non-swing states. But Jews are of course influential in $ and media.

This sort of concern is not restricted to Jews, of course. Different minority groups exercise political power in different ways. I just thought it was worth pointing out that this isn’t a pure public opinion issue but rather something with more indirect pathways.

P.S. I agree 100% with John’s point that swings are mostly uniform and that, if you’re interested in vote swings among a small group, it makes sense to look at it relative to national swings.

s joffe December 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Perhaps the Republican’s vision of the the US Constitution as subservient to New Testament may turn off some non-Christian voters in general, and Jews in particular.

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