Republicans debate in Arizona 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Republicans found some encouragement in the Public Religion Research Institute
(PRRI) 2012 Jewish Values survey released last week and quickly declared it
evidence that Barack Obama’s Jewish support is falling. It is not an entirely
invalid conclusion since he got 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 and this
survey shows 62% of Jewish voters say they would like to see him reelected and
30% prefer an unnamed Republican candidate.
But those politicos overlook
the fact that those numbers are the same level of support Obama and GOP
candidate John McCain had at this point in the election four years ago, and what
came next propelled Obama’s Jewish backing to near-record levels. As they did in
2008, the Republican Jewish Coalition and other GOP activists have launched a
multi-million-dollar campaign to make Israel a wedge issue by painting Obama as
hostile to the Jewish state and its right-wing leadership. The fear-and-smear
strategy four years ago backfired, even though they had a candidate –McCain –
with solid pro-Israel bonafides, unlike this year’s presumptive nominee, Mitt
One Republican flack interpreted the PRRI figures as evidence
that Obama “has a real Jewish problem” and that the GOP will “continue to make
inroads in the Jewish community in the 2012 election,” but an examination of the
numbers – and history – suggests it is the Republicans who have the
The root of the problem: GOP strategists focus solely on the
issue of Israel, which is not a top priority for most Jewish voters, as this and
many other surveys have shown for many years. An overwhelming majority of Jewish
voters surveyed by PRRI – 96% – say Israel is not a determinative issue for
them. The biggest reason is they see both parties as equally supportive, but
many also attributed that to what they perceive as changes in
American Jews expressed a high regard for Binyamin Netanyahu
personally and many are troubled by the tensions between him and President
Obama, but not as much as they are by other factors. More than half are
disturbed by the power of the ultra-Orthodox, who have great influence in the
Netanyahu government. Unlike much of the ruling coalition, American Jews support
establishment of a Palestinian state and say the Israeli- Palestinian conflict
is of greater concern than Iran.
Jewish Democrats are more inclined to
support Palestinian statehood than their Republican brethren
The high points of Jewish voting for a Republican presidential
candidate in recent years were 39% for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 35% for his
successor, George H. W. Bush, in 1988. Four years later, having incurred the
wrath of Israel’s friends in both parties, Bush plunged to 11%. There has been a
slow climb back, with some recent slippage, but the party is still well below
the 1988 level. Not even the younger Bush, with his more Israelfriendly record,
was able to do better than 24% in 2004.
Republicans have fared similarly
in Congressional elections, getting only 19% Jewish support in 2010 despite
having an otherwise generally very strong showing. That 2010 outcome, driven in
no small part by the Tea Party movement, helps illustrate the GOP’s weakness
among Jewish voters.
The PRRI poll shows 73% of Jewish voters feel our
“economic system unfairly favors the wealthy” and 81% want to see the rich pay
That spells trouble for Romney, who paid about 14% in
federal income taxes last year, a fraction of the rate paid by most middle
income families, and he has endorsed the Ryan budget plan calling for more tax
cuts for the wealthy, including himself.
Romney’s increasingly tight
embrace of the social conservative agenda in his effort to shed the label of
Massachusetts moderate further complicates his appeal for Jewish
Jews strongly support abortion rights (93%), same-sex marriage
(81%), tougher environmental protection measures (69%) and by a 3:2 margin they
want the Supreme Court to uphold Obama’s health care legislation that Romney has
vowed to repeal, the survey showed.
Daniel Cox, PRRI research director,
dismisses speculation about a Jewish migration to the GOP in
“[T]his year’s Jewish vote will resemble past elections,” he said.
“The likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, is unpopular among most Jewish
voters, and the GOP’s signature campaign proposal – repealing the recent health
care law – is opposed by nearly six-in-ten American Jews.”
Wald of the University of Florida, who studies Jewish voting patterns, also sees
no evidence of a Jewish shift to the GOP.
“About three out of four
American Jews voted Democratic in 2008,” he told Religious News
Service. “Something relatively similar is likely to occur in
For decades Republican operatives have been predicting a “sea
change” as Jews make an exodus from the Democratic Party. There’s no evidence it
is going to happen this year, either. So why do they keep trying? Republicans
feel compelled to tighten their embrace of Israel because they have so few other
issues on which to appeal to Jewish voters. Perhaps their real objective isn’t
Jewish voters but single-issue, pro-Israel givers with deep pockets, like the
Sheldon Adelsons. They’ve historically been far more successful at raising
Jewish money than Jewish votes, and that is the real name of the game.