The Emergence of Jewish Republicans
By Gabriel Weinstein
After a year of raucous Tea Party protests, growing disillusionment with presidential policies and economic stagnation, Republicans’ fantasy of regaining control of at least one house of Congress is close to becoming a reality. The final USA Today/Gallup Poll released Sunday revealed that 55 percent of likely voters plan on voting Republican while 40 percent of likely voters will vote Democratic. Independent voters, who helped propel Barack Obama to victory in 2008, have left the Democratic fold. Women voters, traditionally Democratic stalwarts, are predicted to vote primarily Republican for the first time since gender vote tracking began in 1982. On this Election Day, will Jewish voters remain a bastion of Democratic support or join the disgruntled droves and vote Republican?
Jews have tended to vote Democratic throughout American history. The small American Jewish community of the late 18th and early 19th century aligned themselves with Jeffersonian Democrats. From the 1830’s through the 1850’s Jewish voters supported Jacksonian Democrats. The Civil War split the Jewish vote as Northern Jews flocked to the Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, while Southern Jews remained Democrats. The emergence of strong Socialist parties during the Eastern European immigration wave of 1890-1930 siphoned Jewish votes from the two major parties. Franklin Roosevelt’s tough stance towards Hitler and New Deal social welfare policies captured Jewish votes during the 1930’s and entrenched Democratic voting as a Jewish cultural norm. The tradition continued during the 2008 elections when 78 percent of Jewish voters voted for Barack Obama.
But recent surveys show that Democratic stronghold over the Jewish vote is dwindling. While two thirds of the Jewish community identified as Democrats in a September 2009 Gallup poll, a year later only 48 percent of respondents to the American Jewish Committee’s Survey identified as Democrats. While Jews gave Obama the highest approval ratings of all religious groups surveyed at 64 percent in the 2009 Gallup poll, this figure plummeted to 51 percent in the AJC survey. Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia said in The Jewish Week, “A 51 percent positive rating for a Democratic president among Jews is, frankly, terrible.”
Hoping to capitalize on Jewish voters’ growing dismay with presidential and Democratic policies the Republican Jewish Coalition began extensive television and direct mail campaigns over the past month in battle ground states such as Ohio, Florida, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania. Perhaps the RJC’s advertising campaign, a sputtering economy, two interminable wars and candidates’ views on Israel are the ingredients that will finally deliver a substantial chunk of the Jewish vote to the GOP.
For many years, Jews have voted Republican in sizeable numbers at the state and local level. Jewish voters strongly supported Rudy Giuliani in his mayoral campaigns, by a proportion of three to one in his second election. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie received 38 percent of the Jewish vote in 2009. Some pundits believe that Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak’s stance on Israel (Sestak signed the “Gaza 54 letter” encouraging the government to steepen pressure on Israel to lift the Gaza blockade) will drive voters toward Republican hopeful Pat Toomey, a noted Israel ally. In New Jersey, a group of Rabbis have formed “Rabbis for Sipprelle” in support of Republican House candidate Scott Sipprelle. Sipprelle is challenging incumbent Democrat Rush Holt, another signer of the Gaza 54 letter.
Whether or not Republicans make the sweeping gains they predict, the 2010 midterm election will be remembered as a crucial turning point in the Obama regime. The country’s seething frustration over health care and tax cuts, coupled with the emergence of zealous Tea Party advocates and charades have added a special flavor to this election season. The possibility of an increase in Republican Jewish voters is the latest oddity of a zany election season.