Taking a Second Look at the November Elections Selected Jewish Insights and Implications

Friday, November 1, 2002

Steven Windmueller 
Director of the School of Jewish Communal Service 
HUC-JIR, Los Angeles Campus

The 2002 elections may have long-term implications for this nation and more specifically for Jewish political interests. The results of this past week's elections will impact the selection and appointment of future Supreme and federal court judgeships, the debate over foreign and military policy, environmental practices, education and economic programs, and social welfare legislation.

Several interesting findings deserve consideration. This election shifted during the final week of the campaign based on both the Gallup Polls and the CBS/New York Times Polls, administered ten days prior to the November 5th election, and again within two days of the elections. There is evidence to suggest that in some specific campaigns there was a shift of nearly 5% in voter preferences.

This election confirmed the shifting balance in the American electorate, fundamentally changing the geographic and political character of the electorate. America today contains a large body of voters comprised of Republicans, independents, and lapsed Democrats; this sector today dominates most of the South, the Mid-West, and significant elements of the far West, while also making some impressive inroads into the North East. The impact of this geographical apartheid is to further isolate the generally liberal pattern of the urban vote, including large segments of the Jewish vote that is concentrated in large metropolitan areas. This pattern is most clearly reflected in such population-rich areas as the metropolitan New York region, South Florida, Chicago, and the greater Los Angeles area.

There is also some evidence from the limited polling done around this election that there are significant changes among key cohorts, as for example younger women have shifted from being solid Democrats to becoming increasingly independent voters, leaning toward the Republican Party. While indicating their support for gun control, for example, this group of voters favors a greater role for religion in public life. During this off-year election there are indications as well of the growth and influence of third party candidates who helped to shape outcomes in several elections. The Green Party for example, captured over 5% of the vote in several key statewide contests, including the California Governor's race and was successful in electing candidates (171) in a number of state and municipal elections.

In relative terms, the impact of American Jewish voting clout continues decline, even in major states where Jews have a major presence. This decline can be noted in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, and California. The effect of this leverage factor defined the special Jewish role in politics covering much of the last half of the 20th century, where the impact of this vote could affect electoral outcomes in key states. As populations shift and as new voters register, the impact of the Jewish vote has been minimized. Even in Los Angeles County, where Jews accounted for somewhere around 4 percent of the electorate (this figure represents the same percentage of the Jewish vote nationally), the Jewish leverage factor on several close state and county races appears to have been minimal.

While Jews remain overwhelmingly Democratic, a good deal of evidence does confirm that younger voters, including Jews, tend to support the Republican Party. Supporting this notion one can find a growing body of Orthodox Jews, along with the traditional Republican Jewish base, which has for some time mounted a more aggressive effort to garner Jewish voters to embrace conservative positions in support of parochial aid and charitable choice, the defense of Israel and the fight against international terrorism. No doubt, in preparation for the 2004 Presidential election, the White House will seek to target and mobilize Jewish support in key states and to parley the President's record of engagement with Israel's security needs into votes for the Republican Party. To support this notion, a Luntz Research Poll in April, showing that 48 percent of Jews surveyed said they would consider voting for President Bush for re-election in 2004. That poll also found that Bush's performance moved 27 percent of Jewish voters to say they were more likely to vote for Republicans for other offices as well. Since the exit polling data was not available for the November 5th elections, these numbers cannot as yet be confirmed.

Historically, in Congressional races Jews vote overwhelmingly Democratic. During the 1990's, for example, Democrats won at least 73 percent of the Jewish vote in House of Representatives races across the country. Within the last two decades, Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates peaked at 82 percent in 1982, according to The New York Times. Contrastingly, the high point for Republicans was the 32 percent of the Jewish vote that party garnered in House races in 1988.

A recent report by the Gallup Organization found that the partisan slant of the Jewish vote had remained stable over the past decade. No individual poll had enough Jewish respondents to mark a trend. But, extrapolating from its surveys during the past 18 months, Gallup determined that some 50 percent of Jewish voters are Democrats, 32 percent are independent and 18 percent are Republicans. In fact, the Jewish Democratic trend has been evident through most of the 20th century. According to data compiled by Stephen Isaacs, the last Republican presidential candidate to win a plurality of the Jewish vote was Warren Harding in 1920 (when Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs took an estimated 38 percent to Harding's 43 percent and Democrat James Cox's 19 percent). Between 1928 and 1948, Democrats Al Smith, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman attained considerable support within the community, winning at least 75 percent of the Jewish vote and as much as 90 percent during that time.

In data collected over the past several years, an overwhelming majority of Jews (73 percent) described themselves as moderate or liberal, only 23 percent as conservative. Forty-two percent of Protestants and 34 percent of Catholics claimed the conservative label.

The electoral impact of 9/11 was most directly tied to the New York Governor's race. For example, a Marist Poll last month found that New York's Republican governor, George Pataki, was locked in a dead heat with Democrat Carl McCall among Jewish voters, 47 percent to 46 percent. But did Jewish voters for Pataki signal support for his Republican policies, or for his leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks? Of note, Republican candidates in mayoral elections in the 1990's, especially in New York and Los Angeles, did especially well among Jewish voters. Here again, the unique convergence of personality and circumstance may have been more significant factors in voter preference than party affiliation.

Jewish candidates continue to be elected at all levels of government and in all parts of the nation. One must note the election on Tuesday of two Jewish governors, Edward Randell (Democrat) and the first Republican and first woman to be elected governor of Hawaii. Eleven United States Senators including two Republicans, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania, and twenty-four members of the House identify as Jews.

Taking a look at the California election in somewhat more detail, we can gain some additional insights. Jews voted overwhelmingly for Grey Davis (69%), far higher than any other religious or ethnic group, with the exception of the African-American vote for Davis (79%). Bill Simon received 22% of the Jewish vote, a slightly larger percentage of the Jewish vote than George W. Bush received in the 2000 Presidential Election from California Jews. Possibly of more interest, Jews in record numbers based on a Los Angeles Times Poll, indicated that they had directed votes away from Grey Davis to support the Green Party candidate, Peter Miguel Camejo.

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