Why the Jewish vote matters more than you think

Someone will say that Florida is a unique case, as a state that has both a considerable Jewish population and an unusually even split in terms of party lines.

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October 8, 2018 22:28
4 minute read.
COLORADO RESIDENTS vote in the US midterm elections last week

COLORADO RESIDENTS vote in the US midterm elections. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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When we released the 2018 Jewish Voters Guide initiative last month, I received a lot of feedback. Many people were enthusiastic about having a platform that aims to energize the Jewish voters, but others were skeptical. One response in particular, which I heard several times, really got my attention: that the Jews, as a minority making up just 2% of the population of the United States, are not able to influence elections.

What struck me most in their arguments was the tendency to see constituents as static groups that rarely change voting patterns, and to underestimate the power of local realities. But, it is precisely on the overlooked state and local level that so many elections are decided. So to those of you who doubt our ability to make a difference, I’d like to offer two strong examples to you today: Florida and Nevada.

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You don’t have to be a political expert or a pundit to know that Florida is one of the most important electoral battlegrounds in the United States. For older Americans, the memory of the 2000 presidential election is still vivid; for younger Americans, it is one of the lessons that is constantly revisited in political science courses and in civic engagement campaigns. That was the year the political future of 300 million people came down to 0.009% of the vote in the state of Florida. 

Florida offers a valuable insight into how pivotal the Jewish vote can be on these midterms. In the presidential election of 2012, president Barack Obama won the state by less than 1%, while candidate Donald Trump won in 2016 with 1.3%. In the current Senate race, the latest election survey shows a difference of only 0.7% between Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican opponent Governor Rick Scott. But, if that is only one survey, the aggregate of all polls, still places the difference between the candidates within merely 2%. The gubernatorial race is very close as well. According to the same survey, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum and Republican candidate Ron DeSantis are within a 2% margin. 

With these polls in mind, it is important to remember the considerable Jewish population in Florida. Jews are estimated to make up approximately 3.3% of the state population. Although there are no exact numbers, in terms of share of voters, the Jewish community accounts for roughly 3.4% of the electorate. Consider how possible changes in one group’s voting patterns can have a profound impact on elections outcomes. And the importance of the Jewish vote is channeled also on key congressional races, as swing districts in Florida and could very well determine which party holds the House of Representatives.

Someone will say that Florida is a unique case, as a state that has both a considerable Jewish population and an unusually even split in terms of party lines. That’s where Nevada comes in.
Despite having a relatively small Jewish community, the Jewish vote in of itself can sway the fate of the midterm elections. The Senate race in Nevada between incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller and Democratic challenger Congresswoman Jacky Rosen is one of the biggest toss-ups and most closely-monitored races of this election season.

Secretary Hillary Clinton won Nevada in 2016 with margin of 1.6%, but the aggregate of the polls on the current Senate races shows a difference of just 0.7%. It may seem far-fetched, but it is a possibility that the roughly 1.2% of voters that identify as Jewish in Nevada might hold the keys to the Senate seat.

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The American Jewish Congress launched the 2018 Jewish Voters Guide as a way to feed political activism and encourage voting by making it simpler for Jewish voters to get information about the positions of the candidates on Jewish and Israel-related issues. The incredibly fast news cycle and national politics have suffocated local realities, and in many cases have blurred the nuances of candidates by simply categorizing them according to partisan lines. The platform’s goal is to move beyond the headlines and to focus on what really matters: the issues and where the candidates stand.
To the skeptics that I mentioned earlier, I’d like to leave you with one incredible number: 537. That was, in the end, the difference in votes between candidate George W. Bush and candidate Al Gore in Florida. That is the difference that ultimately made George W. Bush President of the United States. It is the sort of difference that might once again decide elections in Florida, in Nevada, or in other states as well – who will become governor, who will represent the states and the districts in Congress. With a Senate currently controlled by a razor-thin majority (51 to 49 seats) and a House that is subject to a huge number of toss-up races, that small difference in votes might very well decide which party holds our next US Congress.

So don’t forget to vote this November, no matter what the odds look like. Your voice matters – and it might carry farther than you think.

The writer is the president of the American Jewish Congress.

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