Florida, where the Jewish vote for president really counts

Even at this late stage, it seems too close to call in terms of who will win the election. When the race is broken down state-by-state, it could go either way.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump throws a face mask from the stage during a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida, on October 12.  (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump throws a face mask from the stage during a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida, on October 12.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
With the US elections just two days away, and the vast majority of polls favoring Democratic nominee Joe Biden, many people – cognizant that the polls also had Hillary Clinton beating US President Donald Trump last time around – are still reluctant to pick a likely winner.
Even at this late stage, even with most polls pointing to a Biden win, the race seems too close to call in terms of who will walk away with the 270 Electoral College votes to declare victory.
When the race is broken down state by state, however, it is clear how the majority of states will vote, and only about a dozen could go either way.
For instance, everyone knows that California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts – especially Massachusetts – are going to vote for Biden. Likewise, everyone knows that Idaho, Montana, Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama – especially Alabama – are going to vote for Trump.
Of America’s seven million Jews, according to the 2019 American Jewish Yearbook, 5.1 million of them, or some 74%, live in states that are clearly Democratic or Republican – with the overwhelming majority (about 71%) living in Democratic states. For example, 43% of American Jewry live in New York or California, states clearly voting for Biden.
As Ira M. Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky, co-editors of the American Jewish Year Book wrote last year on the eJewish Philanthropy website, in the 2016 elections, had every Jew in New York and California voted for Trump, Clinton still would have taken those states. Seen in these terms, the Jewish vote in those states does not have much weight.
Another 26% of American Jews, however, live in one of what Politico determined were this year’s 13 battleground states, those that are not clearly Red (Republican) or Blue (Democrat), and where the election will be won or lost. The biggest concentration is in Florida, with a Jewish population of some 644,000 people, or just over 9% of the population.
But there are also significant Jewish concentrations in Pennsylvania (4.3% of the population), Texas (2.5%), Ohio (2.1%) and Georgia (1.8%), and a shift of just a few percentage points in how the Jews vote in those states could be critical if one candidate takes the state by 1% of the vote or less.
But the state where Jews clearly have the most influence with their presidential vote is Florida, which has voted for the winning president in 16 out of the 18 elections since 1948 (1960 and 1992 being the exceptions) and whose 29 electoral votes are a key part of either Trump’s or Biden’s path to victory.
The importance of the Jewish vote in Florida is also the reason why both campaigns are investing tremendous amounts of money in campaigns directed at the Jewish community.
For instance, if you live in Florida and your name is Cohen, Levy or Bernstein, the chances are good that you received a leaflet in the mail in the last few days informing you that Trump is a stalwart opponent of antisemitism.
“President Donald Trump and the Republican party have gone to extraordinary lengths to fight anti-Semitism,” read the circular, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.
Trying to counter the impression that Trump has winked and nodded toward white supremacists throughout his presidency, the flier read, “President Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned white supremacy,” and then quoted him saying on August 14, 2017: “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
This comment came just a week after Trump’s remark following the violent protests in Charlottesville where he said of white supremacists and their counterprotesters that there are “very fine people on both sides.”
The flier featured pictures of three members of the harshly anti-Israel “Squad,” congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and said Trump “has called out the Democratic Party for refusing to condemn and expel anti-Semites” such as Omar, Tlaib and Minnesota Attorney General and former congressman Keith Ellison.
“The Democratic party has embraced anti-Semites like Ilhan Omar as a crucial voting bloc,” the flier reads. “In a Biden-Harris administration, the anti-Semites in the Democratic Party will run the White House just like they run Congress. Protect the America you love from anti-Semitism. Stop Joe Biden & the Democrats.”
If this type of pitch influences just a couple percent of Florida’s estimated 535,000 Jewish voters, it could have an oversized impact on the election.
The 2018 Florida gubernatorial race is a case in point. In that race, Ron DeSantis, a Republican with a very strong record on Israel, defeated the progressive Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, by a total of 32,463 votes. Some observers have attributed that margin of victory to the inroads DeSantis made in the Jewish community, which historically votes strongly Democratic.
And those who do say Jews tipped the scales in that election have a statistical leg to stand on. In the 2016 elections, Jews nationally, according to exit polls, voted 24% for Trump and 71% for Clinton. In Florida, Trump won more than the national Jewish average, 27%.
In 2018, however, DeSantis took more than a third of the Jewish vote, garnering 35%, which translated into about 187,000 votes, some 43,000 more Jewish votes than Trump garnered in 2018 and enough to account for his margin of victory.
And it is precisely in a state like Florida, with a Jewish population that is older and has a substantial Modern Orthodox and Orthodox component, where Trump’s strong record on Israel may be beneficial, as this demographic has stronger ties to Israel than younger, conservative, reform or nonaffiliated Jews.
If, as has happened in the past – just think back to the 2000 Bush-Gore election when George W. Bush won the state, and as a result the presidency, by 537 votes – Florida decides Tuesday’s election, how the Jews vote there could be very significant, much more so than how they vote in almost every other state.