Opinion

Donald Trump will Win the Jewish Vote

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Posted: Oct 16, 2020 12:01 AM
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Donald Trump will Win the Jewish Vote

Source: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Editor's Note: This piece was co-authored by Bruce Abramson.

For decades, political scientists, pundits, pollsters, and politicians have puzzled: Why is the Jewish Vote so reliably Democratic?  The question has been around so long that few even bother to ask whether it’s an accurate characterization.  Spoiler alert: It’s not.

Jews still favoring Democrats are overwhelmingly those who have abandoned Jewish voting priorities and now are politically indistinguishable from their non-Jewish neighbors.  Meanwhile, voters whose Jewish identity defines their lives and behavior overwhelmingly favor President Trump and Republicans.  

Two polls released this week provide insight and support into this distinction—and why, as we recently explained in depth—only the latter group can reasonably be characterized as a “Jewish Vote.”

Ami Magazine—a national weekly serving Orthodox Jews—polled 1,000 Orthodox respondents in 22 states about the forthcoming election.  83 percent favored President Trump. Only 13 percent favored the Democrats’ Joe Biden.  Responses about party registration, gun safety, and Israel all suggest their preference for the GOP is rational and robust.  

The Israel-based global news station i24 polled Israelis.  Fully 88% of respondents reported interest in the American election.  When asked which candidate would be better for Israel, 63.3 percent named Trump; only 18.8 percent chose Biden.  When asked about the status of US-Israel ties were Biden elected, more than half expect a decline; less than 6 percent envision possible improvement.  

Granted, neither of these polls represents an attempt to capture the Jewish Vote as it has long been portrayed.  Orthodox Jews, though growing rapidly, still remain a minority.  The i24 poll didn’t attempt to capture American voters other than incidentally (American citizens represent < 5 percent of Israel’s population).  Nearly every discussion of the Jewish Vote, on the other hand, defines its population to include all American voters of Jewish extraction. 

Set aside for a moment the important critique that these traditional analyses (as well as these new polls) systematically ignore the substantial population of first- and second- generation Jewish immigrants from Israel, MENA and the FSU, who seem resistant to both Democrats and establishment American Jewish leadership. Estimates of those cohorts range from 20 to 30 percent or more of America Jews (there is some overlap with the Orthodox). 

Even if the traditional count were substantially comprehensive, its threshold criteria are misleading– overbroad and underbroad – in statistical and political terms.  To be statistically meaningful or politically relevant, a characteristic must impact voting behavior.  For example, there are almost 35 million Americans of Irish descent, but it’s been decades since presidential campaigns engaged in sustained Irish voter outreach. That’s because it’s long been difficult to distinguish anything sufficiently unique – identifiably Irish - about their political behavior.  Most vote precisely as their education, profession, income, and zip code alone would predict.  The exceptions tend to be active, practicing Catholics who elevate concerns relevant to their faith.  Campaigns indeed continue with Catholic voter outreach.  

The use of the term “Jewish” interchangeably to mean both ethnicity (like “Irish”) and faith (like “Catholic”) obfuscates it, but the same phenomenon is true for America’s Jews.  It’s no longer controversial to acknowledge that America’s Jewish mainstream doesn’t vote on Israel.  

Nor would anyone suggest that America’s non-Orthodox prioritize the freedom to practice any faith - Judaism included - that misaligns with enlightened elite opinion.  Those who consider it at all tend to do so as progressives, putting scare quotes around “religious freedom,” denouncing it as a euphemism for bigotry or an attempt to establish theocracy. 

Starkly divergent world views and policy priorities necessarily point in different political directions.  The American Left seethes with enmity towards President Trump and is thoroughly wedded to the Democrats. The vast majority of Jews who follow suit proudly confirm that they do so as progressives with universal concerns; not parochially – not as part of a “Jewish Vote.” Even when they profess concern over antisemitism, it’s glaringly limited to those alleged by progressives to be malefactors. Meanwhile, Orthodox and traditional Jews are a unique, genuinely independent, identifiably Jewish swing vote. Largely Blue state dwellers, they struggle mightily with how to salvage any political relevance with Democrats. They see President Trump as a benefactor to the Jewish state, a boon to Jewish education, a protector of Jewish observance, and a genuine fighter against antisemitism of any kind. Concerned with Jewish survival, they vote accordingly. 

The political class knows all this to be true. While the Republican Jewish Coalition has exploded as an active grassroots (and increasingly Orthodox) membership and outreach organization, its erstwhile counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council, ceased outreach and grassroots years ago and became the alter ego of a political operative. Today there are a number of similar professional messaging operations to maintain the fiction of a distinct Jewish Democrat constituency but focused almost entirely on crisis management around the growing normalization of antisemitism and anti-Israelism in the Democratic Party rather than on representing a unique grassroots constituency.

Why so many Jews continue to embrace progressivism in the face of this manifest hostility remains an excellent question for sociologists. And Biden will win the Progressive Vote handily. As for the “Jewish Vote”? By any reasonable standard, Donald Trump will win it in a landslide.