Can Jews Influence the 2020 Election?
We’re coming down to the wire, with less than three weeks to go until election day. National polls indicate Joe Biden has a substantial lead that would seem to guarantee victory in the popular vote. He also leads in most battleground states where the vote really matters and determines the electoral vote. Still, prognosticators have forecast everything from a Biden landslide to an Electoral College nail-biter that isn’t decided for days, weeks, or even months. Given the uncertainty, will the Jewish vote matter?
If Biden routs Trump, the Jewish vote seemingly will not matter — except to do so, he will have to prevail in battleground states where the margin of victory is likely to be so close he will need every vote he can get. For Trump to win, he needs those battleground states — so, again, Jews can have an impact. Then again, in a close election, every constituency can claim their votes made a difference.
The latest Pew poll shows Biden ahead among Jewish voters 70% to 27% (the margin of error is 1.5%). Both Democrats and Republicans can take some comfort in the numbers. For Democrats, Biden is winning by a substantial margin, but he is 1% below what Clinton received in 2016 and the average vote for a Democrat since 1968. Trump is doing better than his first election, picking up 3% and beating the Republican average by 2%. This might be partly explained by an uptick in Jewish approval of Trump’s handling of his job from 29% to 35% from two years ago. Interestingly, Jews’ view of Trump then significantly differed from the national average (about 15 points lower) and is now nearly the same — 38% versus 35% for Jews — but this is because approval of Trump has dropped from 44% (in February 2017).
Trump has rock solid support of roughly 40% of voters who are inured to anything Trump might say or do. Pro-Trump Jews have been part of the president’s unshakeable base.
While Jewish Republicans hopelessly fantasize of a “Jexodus” of Jewish Democrats switching parties, President Trump did not help their cause when he said, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Democrats are only slightly less naïve in expecting the Republicans to abandon Trump. For the Republicans, his Israeli policies trump (excuse the pun) everything else. Even Trump’s pro-Israel policies are not viewed favorably by Democrats who dislike Netanyahu, supported the Iran nuclear deal and believe in a two-state solution. For Republicans, and some Democrats, Biden is inseparably connected to what they considered Obama’s anti-Israel policies and disastrous nuclear deal.
As with the general electorate, Jews may not be enthused by Biden, but the Jewish Electorate Institute found that Jews overwhelmingly favor the former vice president over the president on every issue, including Israel. That survey also indicated a majority of Jewish voters believe that Trump deserves the greatest blame for the spread of coronavirus; nearly two-thirds trust Biden more on antisemitism, and most feel less secure than they did four years ago and believe they will be less safe if Trump is re-elected.
Though the proportion of the American population is only 2.1%, Jews have historically had disproportionate influence because of the time, energy and money they put into campaigns, the percentage who vote (as much as 85% compared to roughly 55% of all voters), and their subsequent involvement in government and lobbying elected officials.
Money is always an issue in campaigns. In 2012, 71% of the $160 million that Jewish donors contributed went to Obama and 29% to Mitt Romney, according to Eitan Hersh and Brian Schaffner. As of September 2016, 95% had went to Hillary Clinton and 5% to Trump. More generally, Steven Windmueller noted, 50% of all campaign dollars donated to the Democratic Party are from Jewish funders, while 25% of donations to the Republican Party are provided by Jewish contributors. To give just two recent examples, Michael Bloomberg dropped $100 million into Florida to help Democratic candidates and Haim Saban raised $4.5 million for Biden at a fundraiser at his house.
The big question remains whether Jewish voters can influence the outcome of the Electoral College. The top 10 states with the largest Jewish populations account for 244 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Ira Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky point out, however, that the two states with the largest Jewish populations, New York (1,771,320 — 25% of the total) and California (1,147,990 — 17% of the total) are so heavily Democratic that the outcome in those states is not in doubt and the Jewish vote has no impact, effectively disenfranchising 42% of American Jews.
On the other hand, they argue Jews can make a difference in Florida, which Trump won by 113,000 votes, and the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which Trump carried by less than 1% in 2016. In a close election, Jews could also influence the outcome in Arizona, Georgia and Ohio, which each have Jewish populations of more than 100,000.
Put simply, Jewish votes matter.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and authority on US-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.