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November 23, 2010 6:52 pm

How the Jewish Vote Influenced the Midterm Results

avatar by Morgan P. Muchnick

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Because Jewish voters so regularly flock to the Democratic Party, it only takes subtle shifts rightward to have a significant affect in certain states. Photo: Mike Licht.

Now that we are a few weeks out from the November midterm election and the dust has mostly cleared it is important to take stock and note the historic nature of this election.  History tends to remember national elections in which presidents are elected, or re-elected, much more so than midterm elections.  Thus, America and the world will likely soon turn to the next issue of the day, a process hastened by the 24/7 news cycle of the modern era.  Nonetheless, the sweeping Republican victories resulting in a GOP majority in the House of Representatives and massive wins across statehouses throughout the nation, resulting in an electoral advantage for the Republican Party as individual states prepare to redistrict in 2011, would have seemed impossible so soon after the election of Barack Obama.  Americans of all stripes moved away from the Democratic Party, including Jewish voters.  However, while the percentage of Jews voting for Republican candidates was up from its historical norm, it was not exactly a groundswell for Republican candidates.

According to respected polling expert Michael Barone, the House of Representatives popular vote was approximately 52-46 Republican.  In political polling terms, this is a landslide.   Barone states this was on par or better than the Republican landslide of 1994 and more impressive than any other GOP victory in history, bar those of 1946 and 1928.  Moreover, this came on the heels of the Democratic Party electing a wildly popular president just two years previous.  While there were some notable GOP losses in the Senate, including but not limited to Nevada, Delaware and Colorado, clearly a “wave of rejection” came pouring over the Democratic Party.

After two painful election cycles for the GOP leading up to 2010, it seemed clear that the country had lost its affection for the Republican Party.  However, the news of the GOP’s demise was premature.  As fast as the country shunned the Republicans, it rejected the Democratic majority faster than you can say, “Obama-care.”  In less than two years, the GOP went from a state of depression to cautious optimism.  However, the space of two years is far too short for the country to fall in love with a party it had so recently and thoroughly rejected.  Instead, the 2010 midterm indicated that the country had repudiated the policies of the Democratic Party.  This is illustrated by polling data that still has President Obama receiving high marks for personal likeability.  Undoubtedly, the nation would not run away from a party led by such a likeable leader if it did not strongly disagree with his policy positions.

Of particular interest in this election was some exit polling regarding the Jewish vote.  On its face, the Jewish vote did not shift as strongly to the right as many Republicans had hoped, despite President Obama’s willingness and indeed comfort in openly challenging Israel in multiple forums.  According to exit polling taken by various Jewish organizations, Jewish voters chose the Republican Party at a rate of approximately 30%, which is modestly higher than average.  However, because Jewish voters so regularly flock to the Democratic Party, it only takes subtle shifts rightward to have a significant affect in certain states.  For example, according to polling data compiled by the Republican Jewish Coalition, Senator-elect Mark Kirk received 32.3% of the Jewish vote in his Illinois senate race; well above the 24% Republican candidates have received, on average, by Jewish votes in midterm elections since 1982.  Moreover, Senator-elect Pat Toomey received almost 31% in his successful Senate run in Pennsylvania.  Both of these races were razor close and such an increase in the Jewish vote in states with substantial Jewish populations such as these undoubtedly played a significant role in the GOP’s success in these traditionally Democratic strongholds.

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While it is clear the Democratic Party still enjoys tremendous support from Jewish voters in America, it is safe to say they can no longer take the vote completely for granted.  Are the majority of Jewish voters willing to give the GOP a chance?  Not just yet.  However, it took some time for the Democratic Party to gain a stranglehold on the Jewish vote, and it will take time to free them from it.

Morgan P. Muchnick is a 2001 graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  He previously served as professional staff to Senator Fred Thompson and as a volunteer for Senator Thompson’s presidential campaign.  In addition, Mr. Muchnick served as chief speechwriter for DanielAyalon, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, and as a policy analyst for various organizations on Capitol Hill.

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