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November 18, 2020 5:26 am

Amid Changing Demographics, Will Jewish Voters Play a Growing Role in Swing States?

avatar by Irit Tratt

Opinion

Yard signs supporting Donald Trump and Joe Biden are seen outside of an early voting site, at the Fairfax County Government Center, in Fairfax, Virginia, Sept. 18, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Al Drago.

With post-election tensions running high, it appears that the American Jewish community’s overwhelming support for the Democratic Party may be eroding. According to a New York Times/AP poll “President Donald Trump won 30.5% of the Jewish vote this year, up 6.5 points from his 24% share of the Jewish vote in 2016.  It is the highest percentage for any Republican presidential candidate since 1988.”

But shifting trends could portend even more support for Republicans in the future. Jewish migration from blue states to swing states is increasing, and is likely to continue. Consequently, there is likely to be a renewed focus on our community’s vote — and that vote is going to matter more in these swing states than it does in traditional Jewish strongholds like New York, New Jersey, and California. Additionally, the ascent and growth of an anti-Israel block in the Democratic Party could erode Jewish support there; though the rise of antisemitic elements on the far-right could also play a role in the future of the Jewish vote.

This past Passover, with New York COVID-19 cases spiking, my family and I left New York and spent a couple of months in Arizona with some family members. Today, the greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area boasts several kosher restaurants and a number of kosher supermarkets. My sister’s shul in Scottsdale, which was a storefront only 10 years ago, is now housed in a beautiful new modern building. Every month, there are prospective families visiting from Lakewood, Riverdale, Englewood, and Queens. Their membership is growing by the week, and it is estimated that there are approximately 120,000 Jews of all denominations living in Arizona, most of whom are concentrated in Maricopa County (which narrowly delivered Arizona to Joe Biden — the first time a Democrat had won it since 1996).

Arizona is not unlike many other southern states. According to a recent article published in Ami Magazine, Jewish migrants are also moving to Tampa, Florida, for example. Efforts are underway to build a development that will accommodate approximately 2,500 homes, a kosher market, and a yeshiva. The Republican Jewish Coalition spent over $5 million in Florida and it paid off for President Trump who reportedly garnered over 40% of the Jewish vote and eventually won that state. Even Ben Shapiro, the pro-Trump conservative commentator, recently moved from California to Florida. He subsequently moved his media company to Nashville, Tennessee, a city where 25% of the Jewish population has been there for 10 years or less.

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Eric Cohen, Executive Director of the Tikvah Fund, points out in a recent piece in Mosaic that “as cultural conditions in New York, New Jersey, and California continue to become even more hostile to traditional Jewish communities, the migration might accelerate.” Orthodox Jews, unhappy with their treatment during the coronavirus pandemic, could continue to leave these area in droves. Of course, it’s impossible to know what the reaction will be in these other states as Jews continue to move there in larger numbers.

While Republican advancements with Jewish voters may be a result of shifting Jewish population centers, these trends are only being exacerbated by the Democrats’ inability to root out antisemitism within their own party. In Georgia, Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Kelly Loeffler will face each other in a runoff election for a critical Senate seat in January. Rev. Warnock has gone on record signing his name to a letter likening conditions in the West Bank to apartheid South Africa. On the other side, Loeffler has come under fire for her ties to the QAnon conspiracy movement. Incidentally, according to one survey, Jews in Georgia voted for Trump by a higher margin than seen in other states, handing him 50% of their votes (AP VoteCast).

Members of the Democratic left added to their ranks on November 3, with Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) winning their elections, after prevailing in the primaries over moderate Democrats Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Eliot Engel (D-NY). This is further indication that the “old guard” is being replaced by younger and more progressive personalities, some of whose policies will be antithetical to the Jewish community’s best interests — just as we’ve seen with Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), among others. Just last week, Omar accused Israel of ethnic cleansing — a remark met with silence by the bulk of the Democratic Party and by the overwhelming majority of Jewish organizations.

In the coming years, the Republican Party as a whole will have the opportunity to continue to develop and nurture its relationship with the Jewish community as Jewish voters become a more concentrated voting bloc in areas outside of the tri-state area and California. What remains more uncertain is how many votes Republicans will gain from disenchanted Jewish Democrats.

Irit Tratt obtained her Masters in International Affairs with a focus on the Middle East from George Washington University. Upon graduating, she worked as a legislative assistant handling foreign affairs for several members of Congress. She currently lives in Westchester County.

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