Political Animal


April 11, 2012 12:58 PM Time, Once Again, To Explode Myth of Jewish Trend to GOP

By Ed Kilgore

At about this time in nearly every presidential cycle, you start hearing that Jews are going to leave the Democratic column in significant numbers either because a Democratic administration is insufficiently supportive of Israel or a Republican administration is all warm and cozy with Israeli leaders. Yes, there have been a couple of fairly recent presidential elections where the Jewish vote moved significantly: the 1980 cycle, when Jewish unhappiness (on both domestic and international issues) with Jimmy Carter held him to an extraordinarily low 45% of the Jewish vote (still more than Ronald Reagan, but with major defections to third-party candidate John Anderson), and the 1992 cycle, when Jewish unhappiness (on both domestic and internation issues) with George H.W. Bush held the incumbent to a mere 11% of that vote. By and large, though, the Jewish vote has been reasonably stable, with Democrats typically winning two-thirds to three-fourths of it.

And that’s how it looks in 2012, notes the distinguished Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg at TAP, drawing from a new survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute. PRRI shows 62% of Jewish voters expressing support for President Obama’s re-election as opposed to 30% preferring a “generic” Republican. Generic GOPers have typically done better than actual candidates in polls this cycle, of course, and in addition, PRRI notes this split in sentiment is very similar to what it found at this point in the last cycle, where Obama ultimately won 78% of the Jewish vote.

Aside from the questionable nature of the quadrennial predictions of major Jewish defections to the GOP, related mythmaking involves the belief that American Jews are closely attuned to Israeli attitudes towards U.S. politics, or for that matter, vote primarily on Middle Eastern issues. That’s far from the truth, notes Gorenberg:

If Obama does lose some Jewish support, Israel won’t be the reason. Only 4 percent of PRRI’s respondents listed Israel as the most important issue for them in the election, and only another 5 percent listed it in second place. Some of those were already in the Republican camp, perhaps most. Anyone who is terribly impressed that Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu are old friends from their days as apprentice robber barons was not a likely an Obama voter to begin with.

Gorenberg does not specifically say this, but my own strong impression is that GOP solidarity with the Israeli Right is designed less to appeal to Jews than to conservative evangelical Christians. And the price Republicans pay for their close attention to that constituency when it comes to Jewish support is palpable:

If the GOP is even less popular among Jews than it was a generation ago, the reason is apparent: The party has become ever more rigid and homogenous in its economic and social conservatism, and its tests of ideological purity send none-too-coded messages to Jewish voters.
The party’s anti-abortion stance is not only an attack on reproductive freedom; it is an obvious demand to base law and policy on the beliefs of conservative Protestants and Catholics about when life begins. It broadcasts disdain for a religion-neutral polity. The party’s nativist orthodoxy toward immigration projects fear of difference, of anyone outside a narrowly defined “us.” Opposition to same-sex marriage encodes both messages at once. These are not messages designed to attract Jewish voters. Jewish comfort and safety in America—unique in Jewish history—rest upon cultural openness and religious neutrality.

Unlike conservative evangelicals and some “traditionalist” Catholics, Jews don’t tend to think of “religious neutrality” as including broad public policy concessions to religious leaders nestled in Christian nationalist rhetoric. Whatever gains Republicans might make among Jewish voters unhappy with the economy, disappointed by Obama, or anxious about Israel are probably capped and at least partially offset by GOP solidarity with the Christian Right, who may be tactical allies in supporting Israel but are ancient enemies in every other respect.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • howard on April 11, 2012 1:08 PM:

    i'll note first that i'm jewish.

    i was talking to my parents the other day, who are snowbirds in florida for another few weeks, and we were talking about rubio, and i said "the endless gop dream that racial minorities are suddenly going to find the republican party congenial has about as much chance for success as the their dream that jews are suddenly going to find the republican party congenial and for the same reason: we're not idiots. we know where the republican party draws its strength from - conservative, evangelical, white people. they are not our friends."

  • schtick on April 11, 2012 1:40 PM:

    Jimmy Carter was (and is), probably the last President that was actually for the country and for the people and honest. Three traits that would automatically keep him out of any elected office today.
    I voted against Carter in 1980 only because he refused to let the athletes compete in the Olympics and then set it up so they couldn't compete under another country's flag. It was the dumbest thing he ever did, IMO, but I was even dumber, I voted for Reagan that year. Biggest mistake I ever made.

  • boatboy_srq on April 11, 2012 2:13 PM:


    conservative, evangelical, white people. they are not our friends.

    They aren't most people's friends - and sometimes they're not friends each to the other. Feature, not bug.

  • 2Manchu on April 11, 2012 2:22 PM:

    I think Jewish-Americans could get along with the GOP.

    Just as long as Jews aren't trying to join their country clubs, or date their daughters. Oh, and accept the fact that they killed Jesus. And don't wear those funny-looking beanies.

  • Ken on April 11, 2012 2:37 PM:

    @howard raises a point. Usually when a group is voting that lopsidedly for the Democrats (blacks, Latinos, union members, perhaps soon women), the Republicans demonize them as un-American. Why hasn't this happened (yet?) with Jewish voters? Is it the need to appeal to the evangelical segment and its peculiar eschatological role for the Jews?

  • low-tech cyclist on April 11, 2012 2:57 PM:

    my own strong impression is that GOP solidarity with the Israeli Right is designed less to appeal to Jews than to conservative evangelical Christians.

    I agree. No Israel ==> No third Temple ==> no End Times ==> no Rapture.

    That's the linkage in the evangelical Christian mind.

    If only God would do us the favor of Rapturing everyone who believes in the Rapture, think of what a better place this country would be after they were gone.

    Before some joker says I'm anti-Christian, I should probably mention that I'm a born-again Christian from back in the Jesus Freak era.

  • jjm on April 11, 2012 3:14 PM:

    Jews knew Nixon was quite an anti-Semite, but they worked with him. One Hollywood mogul said that if the Jews didn't try to moderate his anti-Semitism by getting him acquainted with some actual Jews, he was all too likely to go dangerously against them.

    I don't see today's GOP having taken a different path from Nixon's despite their lip-service to an Israel they hope (if evangelicals) to see purged of the last Jews on earth, so the Savior can return.

    But I think Jews now know that warm personal relations with the GOP is no answer to policies, rhetoric and ideas that are deeply hostile to Jewish values.

  • boatboy_srq on April 11, 2012 4:31 PM:

    Perhaps a better way to understand the issue is this:

    Democratic policy planks attract Jewish voters.

    The GOP is using policy to obtain approval from the State of Israel, intending to use that to improve its standing with FundiEvangelical Xtians and gain support from every TV preacher from here to Wasilla, and somehow expecting that doing so will bring the US Jewish vote along for the ride.

    Low-tech cyclist has the relationships for fundie theological assumptions nailed: without Israel there can be no Revelation, no Rapture and none of the righteous smiting of Unbelievers they anticipate (all too eagerly). There is no such thing in that model as too much support for Israel. How anyone would think - let alone discuss in print - that following that (twisted) logic would make the GOP less unappealing to Jewish voters is incomprehensible.

    @LTC: Is it just me, or do the images from Revelation and from foretellings of this Rapture thing sound less like the Calling of the Righteous into Paradise and more like being at ground zero of a nuclear strike? Somehow I think that if these Tribulations the wingnuts eagerly await will be Rapturing up the "wrong" people...

  • Pronghorn on April 11, 2012 10:58 PM:

    "[Republican's] nativist orthodoxy toward immigration..." No, Republicans don't generally have a problem with immigrants, only with illegal aliens.

  • HMDK on April 12, 2012 6:26 AM:

    Hey, Pronghorn, they don't have a problem with illegal aliens either... as long as they work for slave-wages for Republican donors.

  • boatboy_srq on April 12, 2012 8:17 AM:


    One of the biggest laughs of 1996 was the GOP convention in San Diego. "Illegal immigration" was one of the hot topics. We who were out that way wondered who they thought was making their beds, cooking their food and driving to and from the convention...

    It's sadly humourous to hear GOP pols complain about "illegal immigration" in places like Alta California and Nuevo Mexico (former Spanish colonies), with the subtext being "we don't lahk them Brown Peeps a'comin' up heyah and stealin' our jobs 'n' wimmin 'n' things") when most of the "illegals" there are US citizens of several generations' background. This is specially ironic since "illegal immigration" is primarily driven by folks who enter legally on a visa and overstay, and since the primary beneficiaries of illegal labor are the same "small businesses" (think apparel sweatshops and construction firms) and "farms" (read: ADM, ConAgra, Tyson Foods et al) they insist they're supporting with their policies. But statistics are for soshulists, apparently, unless they're plucked out of Heritage Foundation wingnut a###s.