Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 2000 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT WAS perhaps inevitable that in a year that saw a historic first — a Jew nominated for vice president by a major political party — neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would make much of an effort to win Jewish votes. The Jewish vote was a sure thing for the Democrats and a lost cause for the GOP.
But for those who take the time to examine the results of the Jewish Exponent/Zogby exit poll of Jewish voters in Greater Philadelphia, as well as other Jewish exit polls around the country, the results turned out to be not quite so predictable.
One surprise for pundits like me was that the presence of the sainted junior senator from Connecticut on the Democratic ticket was not a major factor in determining the Jewish vote. Even while non-Jews said that Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s presence on the ticket was no deterrent to them, he was also not much of an incentive for most Jews to support the Democrats. The ticket of Vice President Al Gore and Joe Lieberman got almost the same percentage of the Jewish vote that President Clinton won in 1996 and a few points less than the Clinton-Gore team won in 1992.
By November, the Lieberman frenzy among Jews had cooled sufficiently for the ceiling on the Democratic Jewish vote to reappear. That appears to be at about 80 percent, with the Exponent/Zogby poll showing that 77.57 percent of those identifying as Jews saying they voted for Gore. The polls all show that, outside of African-Americans, Jews are still the most solidly liberal sector of the population.
Yet the Exponent/Zogby poll’s breakdown of voters by age and denominational affiliation leaves room for Republicans to hope.
The poll did show that a shift toward the Republicans among Orthodox Jews continues, with as many as quarter of all such voters saying they voted for Gov. George W. Bush. But, given the fact that Orthodox Jews still represent a minority among American Jews, Republicans will need a wider appeal to win the Jewish vote.
Along those lines, the Exponent/Zogby poll revealed that a majority of Jews under the age of 30 (59 percent) actually gave their votes to Bush. Equally interesting were the numbers for those who did not choose to identify themselves as affiliated with any Jewish denomination. An amazing 60 percent of this group said they voted for Bush.
It is no surprise to anybody that older Jews are more likely to be Democrats. That would account for the 95 percent vote for Gore among those over 65. Those who grew up in the era when Franklin Roosevelt was seen as something approaching a deity by most Jews (recriminations about FDR’s inaction during the Holocaust would come later) are still not good prospects for the GOP.
Lieberman’s candidacy probably also meant more to older Jews than to those who grew up in a world in which anti-Semitism was not a factor in their lives. While these figures, like everything else in any poll, should be read with a critical eye (and with recognition that the margin of error was calculated at plus-or-minus 4.9 percent), they may reveal as much about the sociology of American Jews as they do about our politics.
Many American Jews cling to a notion of a Jewish identity based primarily on liberal politics, with a touch of culture and cuisine thrown in. But, just like the alarmingly high rates of intermarriage, this exit poll reveals that a Jewish identity based on left-wing politics is no more survivable than last month’s bagels and lox. Younger Jews want their own answers and won’t be led like sheep to the ballot box to vote their grandparent’s political prejudices.
While the potential demographic decline of Jewish leftism elicits no tears from this writer, it does evoke a problem facing the entire community. Those elements of Jewish identity that speak to Jewish peoplehood (i.e., support for Zionism and Israel), rather than to Jewish faith, are just as threatened by assimilation as is nostalgia for the Jewish left. Time will tell whether younger and unaffiliated Jews will be prepared to mobilize for Jewish causes the way their parents were.
RUNNING ON ISRAEL
Santorum’s 40 percent share of Jewish votes equals the highest national Jewish polling figure for a modern Republican candidate for president (Ronald Reagan in 1980). It was based, in large measure, on the senator’s long-standing, hard-core support of the State of Israel. But at the same time, it also illustrates the uphill battle Republicans face. Considering his opponent’s spotty record on Israel and his equally conservative views on guns and abortion, Santorum probably deserved to have done much better among Jewish voters.
But even a pro-Israel record is no guarantee of support for a Republican facing a popular Jewish liberal. Across the river in New Jersey, Republican Rep. James Saxton easily won re-election over Jewish Democrat Susan Bass Levin. But Saxton’s perfect score on Israel issues did not help him with New Jersey Jewish voters. A Zogby poll done for the New Jersey Jewish News revealed that Saxton got only 7.6 percent of the Jewish vote!
And in New York, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton won a majority of the Jewish vote, according to a CNN exit poll, over Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., who had been an outspoken supporter of Israel. In the Empire State, celebrity and liberalism still trump everything else.
Many Jews are also upset by the fact that both Democrats and Republicans felt the need to pander to Arab-Americans just as they had always done in the past. In the end, neither party made much headway, though Bush won a majority of their votes while failing to carry Michigan.
The Arabs — though poorly organized and, as a mostly immigrant-based population, lacking in the self-confidence and assertiveness that marks American Jews — do have one thing going for them. They are not considered to be in the pocket of either the Democrats or the Republicans. That’s something for Jews to think about as they ponder the possibility of a GOP president having a Republican Congress to back him up during the next four years.
What will history say about the crucial role elderly Jewish retirees may have played in the outcome? With any luck, very little — and that is all to the good.
I’ll leave aside the merits of the cases made by both parties about the intricacies of the Florida recounts. Both Democrats and Republicans are equally hypocritical, since both would be saying the exact opposite thing were their positions reversed.
However, I am sure about one thing.
If the infamous “butterfly” ballot had been used in a rural Florida county
with few Jews and had resulted in members of the Christian Coalition
mistakenly voting for Ralph Nader, I imagine many liberal Jews would today be
saying “Tough luck” to the GOP and chortling as they exchanged “redneck”
jokes. Nor would Jesse Jackson be demonstrating against the voting system.
As is always the case with politics, it all depends on which side you’re
JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's highest awards in two categories: First Place in the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing for his column "Israel's China Syndrome -- and Ours" and First Place for Excellence in Arts and Criticism for his column "Jewish Art, Jewish Artists." The awards were given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 2000 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Washington D.C. on June 22, 2000. Let him know what you think by clicking here.