By Mark Mellman – 10/07/09
Maybe it comes from long hours sitting in synagogue during the High Holydays; or perhaps it’s the death of distinguished neoconservative Irving Kristol or the appearance of a book by his fellow traveler Norman Podhoretz, Why Are Jews Liberals?- but the Jewish vote, though small, is attracting considerable attention.
Jews have proven to be stalwart Democratic loyalists. Only three demographic groups gave margins of 50 points or more to John Kerry: African-Americans, gays and Jews. Three groups also gave margins of 50 points or better to Barack Obama: blacks, Jews and those who identify with no religion.That support remains steadfast. During September, Gallup found 64 percent of American Jews approved of the president’s performance, compared to 52 percent of adults generally and 44 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Only African-Americans and Latinos offered higher levels of approval.
Jews’ loyalty extends to the Democratic Party more broadly. Two different polls, utilizing different methodologies – Gallup’s and another from the American Jewish Committee – show Jews identifying with Democrats by nearly 40-point margins. Podhoretz admits this reality, but laments that it should be, arguing that Jews fail to properly apprehend their interests. American Jews, he maintains, are too wealthy to be economically liberal, the Bible too socially conservative for Jews to be culturally progressive and Republicans too solidly supportive of Israel for Jews to find any other political home.While underestimating Jewish poverty, Podhoretz, perhaps unable to fully liberate himself from early dalliances with Marxist determinism, maintains that the right-thinking rich could not endorse liberal economic policies. Kennedy’s, Kerry’s, Rockefeller’s and Buffet’s, not to mention the 52 percent of Americans earning over $200,000 a year who voted for Obama, all give the lie to the underlying assumption.While the import of biblical social imperatives is subject to debate, the succor American Jews find in a tolerant, pluralistic, secular society is not, nor is the hostility of the right to that vision.Support for Israel is a critical element of Jews’ voting behavior. An experiment we embedded in a survey for the National Jewish Democratic Council provides the most telling evidence. For half of the sample we pitted a Republican candidate “Jones” who had a “strong pro-Israel record” and a variety of typical Republican issue positions against a Democratic opponent “Smith,” who also had a “strong pro-Israel record” along with typical Democratic positions on the same issues. The other half of the sample was given identical portraits of “Jones” and “Smith” except that, for the second group, the Democrat lacked the pro-Israel record. Comparing the vote in the two halves of the sample reveals the substantial difference support for Israel makes to Jewish voters. The pro-Israel Democrat won by a 45-point margin, while the Democrat who was identical, except on Israel, eked out only a three-point win. Support for Israel alone created a massive 42-point swing in the margin, clear evidence of the centrality of Israel to Jewish voters.Exactly what constitutes a “pro-Israel” candidate is uncertain, but the new American Jewish Committee poll hints at some indicia. Ninety-four percent of Jews believe the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state; two-thirds would endorse Israeli military action to prevent Iran from going nuclear; nearly six in 10 oppose a compromise that left Jerusalem divided or outside Israeli sovereignty. While 60 percent would dismantle at least some Israeli settlements in exchange for peace, only 8 percent would dismantle them all. As J Street’s poll makes clear, 75 percent supported Israel’s military action in Gaza, while almost the entire community supports an active role for the U.S. in pursuing peace.With 76 percent labeling the president pro-Israel, Democrats appeal to Jews’ economic and cultural instincts, as well as to their pro-Israel commitments.
The Jews and the Democrats
By Mark Mellman – 10/07/09