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.
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.