At their peak

The 2012 US elections could mark the highpoint of Jewish influence in American politics.

November 6, 2012 01:02
1 minute read.
Pro-Israel students on US campus

Pro-Israel students on US campus 521. (photo credit: Courtesy JAFI)


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In the closing stages of the razor-thin 2012 US presidential election, American Jews suddenly emerged in a starring role in a way they never had before.

In no previous election had the candidates spent so much money and expended so much time and energy in an effort to target and capture Jewish votes. In the short term, some might see this as gratifying. After all, it’s nice to be wanted. But some of the longer term implications are worrying both for the American Jewish community and for Israel.

Traditionally, as is well known, American Jews have loyally supported Democrats through good times and bad, going all the way back to the Great Depression and the New Deal. The only real exception came in 1980 when Jimmy Carter won only 45 percent of the Jewish vote, while Ronald Reagan took 39%. (A third candidate, John Anderson, won the rest).

In the five elections of the past 20 years prior to 2012, Jewish support for the Democratic candidate was remarkably stable – between 76% and 80%, according to exit polls. Barack Obama won 78% in 2008, a fairly typical result. But this year, Republicans saw an opportunity to change that.

Obama’s failure to visit Israel, his public spats with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his call for a return to the 1967 lines with territorial land swaps to form the basis of a peace agreement with the Palestinians alarmed and angered some Jews.

Romney accused Obama of “throwing Israel under a bus.”

Bankrolled by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and other wealthy donors and aided by new campaign finance laws which removed limits on political spending, the Romney campaign and its allies poured $6.5 million into an air and ground offensive to reach Jewish voters in swing states in the final weeks of the campaign.

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