Jewish Vote: Still Liberal After All These Years

The big question about the Romney visit is whether he will attack the president while on foreign soil. Traditionally, American politicians avoid that, adhering to the customary view that "politics stop at the water's edge."
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The Romney campaign says that its candidate is traveling to Israel in late July for some campaign events and to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. According to JTA, in anticipation of the visit, GOP operatives have decamped in Israel to organize. Ari Fleischer, former president George W. Bush's press secretary, spoke at a Romney rally in Tel Aviv and told the audience that, far-fetched as it sounds, expats in Israel can conceivably determine who will be the next president.

"Imagine it's Nov. 6, you wake up, you don't vote, you hear we have another razor-thin election," Fleischer told the crowd. He noted that Israel's 150,000 Jews are "the size of Dayton, Ohio. You're the size of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. You're a longer plane trip from New York from those places, but you're equally important."

Although campaigning among expatriates is odd, and perhaps even unseemly, it makes sense for the Republicans to try it. After all, ex-Americans voting in Israel in 2008 went for McCain over Obama 76 percent to 24 percent. On the other hand, Jewish Americans living in the United States voted for Obama over McCain by the same ratio. And there is little indication that will change this year. So why not go to Israel for a friendlier reception (albeit from a tiny group) than Romney will receive from Jewish communities here.

The big question about the Romney visit is whether he will attack the president while on foreign soil. Traditionally, American politicians avoid that, adhering to the customary view that "politics stop at the water's edge."

Romney is unlikely to uphold that tradition. Fleischer, who is helping to advance the Romney trip, made that clear when he told the Tel Aviv audience that President Obama has forced Israel to make "painful concessions." Not surprisingly he didn't enumerate any.

But he doesn't have to. The Israeli right has not liked President Obama since day one and, in that regard, the expats are very much in sync with their new compatriots.

American Jews, however, are a "whole nother thing."

A new report released on Tuesday by the non-partisan Solomon Project entitled "Jewish American Voting Behavior 1972-2008: Just the Facts" which analyzed data from presidential and Congressional elections since 1972 concludes American Jews are as liberal politically as they ever were, maybe more.

The report study shows that the Democrats' have increased their share of the Jewish vote over the past 36 years but with a significant spike in 1992 that has continued.

From 1972 to 1988, Republican candidates averaged 33 percent-37 percent of the vote, but those figures fell precipitously to 15 percent in 1992 and in the next four presidential elections through 2008, only climbed to the 23 percent that John McCain received in 2008.

So what happened in 1992 to cause the GOP vote among Jews to crash with no recovery in sight? According to the report:

...the GOP became more strongly influenced by the religious right during the early 1990s. Indeed, in the 1992 election, evangelical Protestants solidified their Republican proclivities, becoming the core voting bloc in the GOP coalition, while mainline Protestants, traditionally a key Republican constituency, abandoned President Bush in large numbers, moving to Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. More important, Republican candidates at all levels increasingly aligned themselves with the evangelical community, as well as with its social and religious agenda, one that the Jewish community perceives as inimical to its domestic interests. Though Republican percentages among Jews have recovered a bit since 1992, they have never reached their pre-1992 levels.

In fact, the negative effect blurring the line between politics and religion also hurt one Democratic candidate for president among Jews: Jimmy Carter. In 1976 and 1980 Carter did considerably worse among Jewish Democrats than any Democratic nominees had since FDR's day. The common assumption was that his weak showing resulted from his perceived coolness toward Israel. But, according to the report, the Carter's relatively poor numbers had nothing to do with Israel but rather with his public religiosity.

Jimmy Carter... was an openly evangelical candidate of the kind that has put off Jews. Carter publicly emphasized his religiosity in ways previous Democratic candidates had not. A number of studies have concluded that in the mind of American Jews, public evangelical commitments on the part of political candidates threaten the sense of pluralism that Jews believe has allowed them to succeed in this country.

In other words, traditional Jewish liberalism is buttressed by the issue of separation of church and state. Jews are just plain uncomfortable when presidential candidates fuse their politics with their faith. They didn't like it when Carter did it, even though he was a Democrat. They don't like it when Republicans do it. Given that Carter was the only Democratic candidate to publicly mix politics and religion while virtually all Republicans have for the past two decades, there is little chance that Republicans will make any inroads with Jews any time soon.

The bottom line for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is this. Talking about Israel won't affect your support in the Jewish community (as the American Jewish Committee poll demonstrated in 2008, only about 3 percent of Jews vote based on Israel). The ticket to winning the Jewish vote is being strongly liberal and firmly standing for separation of church and state. In other words, the Democrats have very little to worry about.

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