President elect Barack Obama with his family on the night of his victory, Grant Park, Chicago.
This Year’s Jewish Vote
-- Marc R. Stanley
This year, once again, the Jewish community overwhelmingly supported the
Democratic nominee for President. With the election of Barack Obama, Jewish
voters selected a candidate who, despite an unprecedented smear campaign,
represents the values of our community. This year, we also heard the all too
familiar claims that the Republican nominee was going to receive a record amount
of the Jewish vote. However, once again, this prediction came up woefully short.
In every election cycle for the last 36 years, Republicans offered “sky is
falling” predictions that Jewish voters would give significant support to the
Republican nominee. A typical claim was when President George W. Bush’s campaign
Chairman, Marc Racicot, predicted in 2004 that Bush would garner between 30-35%
of the Jewish vote. Despite Republicans’ history of failed forecasts of the
Jewish vote prior to 2004, their delusional claims persisted.
In 2004, the media largely bought into the argument that Bush would receive a
significant portion of the Jewish vote. A New Republic piece by Lawrence Kaplan
titled, “Kerry's Jewish Problem,” typified the media’s fascination with the
prospect that Senator John Kerry would receive an unusually small portion of the
Jewish vote. The media frenzy led many to give credence to Republican claims
about the Jewish vote four years ago.
Despite the Republican theory about Jewish voters, results from Election Day
2004 showed the usual overwhelming Jewish support for Kerry. In fact, since 1972
(when exit polls where first instituted), the Republican nominee has averaged
only 27% of the Jewish vote. In recent elections, the Republican nominee has
received even less than that with Jewish support of 22% (2004), 19% (2000), and
16% (1996). In 2006, the Jewish support of congressional candidates reached 87%.
Nonetheless, the media remained enticed by persistent Republican claims about
the Jewish vote during this election cycle. The endless attempt by the media to
report the “man bites dog story” instead of the more usual “dog bites man” led
to news articles titled, “Obama’s Jewish Problem” (Politico, 3/13/07) and
“Obama's Struggle to Secure the Jewish Vote” (NBC, 5/23/08). Once again, this
year’s supporters of the Republican nominee and members of the media prematurely
reported that McCain would receive a dramatically increased percentage of Jewish
support with Obama as the Democratic nominee.
In the early months of the general election, the polls projected Obama would
receive about 60% of the Jewish community’s support. Sensing an opportunity to
capture a sizable number of Jewish voters, McCain supporters engaged in an
unprecedented anti-Obama campaign in the Jewish community. This campaign not
only included efforts to paint Obama as an anti-American Muslim, but it also
implied that an Obama presidency may bring a second Holocaust. The anti-Obama
campaign waged by many McCain supporters was widely criticized, and it outraged
many in the Jewish communities they targeted.
As Election Day drew closer and the Jewish community learned more about the two
candidates, polling showed that Obama’s support in the Jewish community
increased to between 70% and 74%. Ultimately, the Jewish community supported the
Democratic nominee in overwhelming numbers. According to exit polling from
Tuesday’s election, Obama received 77% of the Jewish vote – about 26% greater
than Obama’s percentage of total support nationally.
Every four years, like a broken record, we are subjected to the refrain from
Republicans that “this is gong to be the year the Jewish community votes
Republican,” but it never proves true. Somewhat prophetically, Ethan Porter of
The New Republic got it right last week when he reported, “the fear that Jews
might desert the Democratic Party comes up every four years [...] this theory
might finally be put to bed.” Indeed, as it has for the last three decades, the
theory that Jewish voters will significantly support the Republican nominee has
once again been discredited.
Marc R. Stanley is Chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
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