Are Jews Republicans or Democrats? Who Cares?
As we head into the 2016 presidential election season, there’s a plethora of noise about the Jewish vote in America. But the real issue isn’t Jewish votes; it’s Jewish cash. Whether American Jews increasingly look toward the Republican Party or not, and President Obama’s relationship with Israel aside, the Jewish vote will likely not impact the polls as much as it will the coffers of candidates and their Super PACs.
According to 2014 Pew exit polls, Jews represented perhaps three percent of voters in the 2014 elections. Although there are nearly 7 million Jews in the US, according to high estimates, their votes don’t count for that much in Presidential elections.
The states with the largest Jewish populations are not swing states. New York, Massachusetts, California, Florida, and New Jersey represent about half of the American Jewish population – and among those states, Florida is most likely the only one that perhaps, may see a close contest.
President Obama secured 68 percent of the Floridian Jewish vote during the 2012 election. Even if a massive 10 percent of Floridian Jews switched to the Republican Party, this vote would only be important if it was the tightest election in history, similar to the Bush/Gore election in 2000. That is far from the usual national election pattern – and surely not something that merits the ad-naseum media focus on the Jewish vote. In Ohio, a swing state, Jews represent only 1.3 percent of the state’s population – again it would have to be such a close race, and there’d have to be so many changed votes that once again it is not worthy of the outsized media attention.
So then why is there so much noise about the Jewish vote and whether Jews moving to the Republican Party will have any impact? Any number of articles, including Business Insider’s article “Rand Paul’s plan to woo Jewish voters“, JTA’s “Why More American Jews Are Voting Republican,” Politico’s headline that claims “No Jews Aren’t Defecting to the GOP“, The Washington Post asking “Are Democrats Losing Jewish Voters”, and countless surveys and other stories address the issue.
One thought on the matter is that many in the media are obsessed with Jews and Israel and give weighted attention to these topics. Although Israel is a tiny country, and Jews a relatively small population, Jews remain prominent in the media. As Professor Edward Alexander noted in an op-ed,
Too many writers and pundits today are obsessed, almost pathologically, by the conviction that Israel is the most evil country that ever has existed, and that its removal from the family of nations is a precondition of world peace. Such lethally utopian dreams are not strictly the playground of anti-Semites, but also the common coin of much liberal Jewish writing and speechifying about Israel.
Moreover, media attacks on prominent outspoken conservatives like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson are also relevant on this issue. Columnists, editorial writers, and television anchors love to vilify Adelson, claiming that he is pouring money into a political agenda that is “wildly at odds” with American needs. (He gets more coverage than fellow Billionaire George Soros who puts millions into left-wing political charities and has proclaimed that “America is the gravest threat to world freedom.”)
Yet, for politicians there is a key factor: Jews give to charity at a greater rate than just about any other religious group. They also give to political causes, and Jews are accustomed to writing checks for things they care about. There are a number of Jewish mega-donors who have risen to Republican prominence.
Among the more politically conservative Jews, who tend to be more “religious,” there is generally a tight-knit community. Politicians can access the wealthy within these communities through reliable connections, and Super PACs have changed the game of fundraising. Through what some often quip over as “Jewish Geography,” politicians can use their close connections to access others who likely have ties to mega-donors, such as Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, Ira Rennert, and others. Through Jewish day schools, synagogues, organizations, neighborhoods, and businesses, there are a multitude of Jews who can reach other people, and the politicians know how to access this network.
And even if it is not your Jewish billionaire, this crowd is also filled with politically conservative Jews writing checks from $50 to $250,000 to super PACs today because someone with connections asked a friend with money to support a politician. (And yes, this crowd feels that Obama has been a disaster on Israel, and yes, that matters.)
While I do believe that Jews are increasingly recognizing that the Republican Party is more in tune with their needs and values, the reality is that the actual voting numbers are not as impressive as the money that can be had.
P.S. I do believe a Jewish Republican is funding the ad campaign against Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) over his foreign policy positions. As a Congressman recently told me, “Who else would pay for it?”