Analyze This: Hillary didn't need Jewish vote to win - but don't let her know

By
March 6, 2008 06:17

Can we just shut up now about the American-Jewish vote?

4 minute read.



Analyze This: Hillary didn't need Jewish vote to win - but don't let her know

us special 2 224. (photo credit: )

On Tuesday, a record 3.2 million voters took part in the Ohio Democratic primary that Hillary Clinton won over Barack Obama by 55 percent to 44%, which together with her victories in Texas and Rhode Island has kept her campaign alive for at least a few more months. "It's been a unique week or two in American Jewish political history," Democratic Party strategist and Jewish outreach organizer Matt Dorf told The Jerusalem Post a day earlier. "The Jewish vote could provide the margin of victory to either candidate in Ohio." Though it is too soon to say how the local Jewish vote was distributed, with a margin of victory that wide it is safe to say that it did not play a crucial role in the results - given that the Jewish population of Ohio is barely 150,000 in a state of more than 11 million people. Dorf was right in claiming the Jewish vote could have been crucial in Ohio if the race there had been closer. That at least justifies the attention both the media and the campaigns devoted to the Democratic Jewish constituency in the days leading up to Tuesday's primary, especially on Obama's part. But with the Ohio primary behind us, there are no states with substantial Jewish populations left in the Democratic race, except for Pennsylvania on April 22, and that's not likely to be a factor in a contest that increasingly looks like it will be decided by so-called super delegates in the run-up to August's convention. As for November's general election, it's safe to say that the Jewish vote will play almost no significant role in deciding who gets to be the next president of the United States. So the question is - can we just shut up now about the American-Jewish vote? And the answer is - not likely. There are just too many people with an interest in talking up the Jewish vote - including us Jews, of course. Let's first note a few basic facts about that vote. A majority of US Jews still remains loyal to the Democrats, even though the GOP has made a slow but steady inroad into the community. In presidential elections over the last 50 years, no Republican candidate has scored as much as 40% of the Jewish vote (Ronald Reagan did the best, coming close to that against Jimmy Carter in 1980). While Jews today represent less than 2% of the total US population, traditionally they have had an electoral impact well beyond that because of their high turnout, and their concentration in certain large states - in particular New York, New Jersey, California and Florida, where well more than half of US Jews live. Unfortunately, this particular geographic dispersion has worked to the disadvantage of the Jewish vote thanks to the Red State/Blue State pattern evident in recent presidential ballots. The first three states cited above are all well within the Democratic/Blue State Camp. And Jews are not in fact particularly well represented in those places now seen as key "swing states" in national elections, such as Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado or the "New South" states of Virginia and the Carolinas. That leaves Florida, which certainly was the key swing state in 2000. However, that state's Jewish voters still did not succeed in turning the tide for a Democratic presidential contender [Al Gore] with both solid Jewish support and the added benefit of the first Jewish running mate [Joe Lieberman] in US history, and it's unlikely Florida will be that much of a factor this November. So while a relatively moderate Republican candidate with rock-solid Israel-supporter credentials like John McCain may well reach or even surpass the Jewish-vote record for a GOP presidential contender - especially if his opponent is Barack Obama - a few extra Jewish votes in states already pretty much guaranteed as either Democratic or Republican aren't going to make that much of a difference. All this seems self-evident. Yet expect to see many, many articles and news reports about the impact of the Jewish vote in the coming year, and ensuing public discussions therein (again, especially if Obama is the Democratic standard-bearer), all out of proportion to its actual influence. Why's that? Well, Jews are news, and no ethnic minority in a headline is liable to draw such quick attention and controversy, especially in the major media centers on the east and west coasts where Jews are concentrated. Any "Jewish vote" story is also an easy reach for journalists, as there is no shortage of self-styled Jewish leaders and experts ready to serve up good quotes for a piece or segment on the subject. What they will rarely say, though, is that the Jewish vote doesn't really count for all that much in US national elections nowadays - and to be honest, why should they? There are certainly benefits in being perceived as a crucial segment of the voting public, as a community whose sensitivities still have to be respected and whose interests need to be courted. So, if Clinton wants to thank the Jews for winning Ohio, Obama believes he needs to appeal to the community more to keep Jews in the Democratic camp and McCain dreams of breaking the Reagan record for Jewish presidential votes, fine by us. And if people get the impression that the US Jewish voting public is more like 60 million than less than six million - or even that the real number is so crucial in deciding who heads to the White House - we here in Israel are certainly not going to complain. Calev@jpost.com


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