Whither the Jews?


He’s the man the people choose,
Loves the Irish and the Jews.

In the wake of Barack Obama’s recent foray into South Florida’s Jewish community, Terry Mattingly has trouble getting his head around the 2008 version of the Jewish vote. “Very complex and confusing stuff,” saith tmatt. Actually, the stuff is not so complex or confusing–certainly not by comparison to, say, the Catholic vote.
Jews became solid Democratic voters early in the 20th century, and they’ve never wavered since (unless you count the disillusionment with Jimmy Carter in 1980). If the old quip that Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans is as true now as it ever was, it’s because of the rise of the religious right. When Christians are on the march, Jews run the other way, and the the embrace of the evangelical agenda by the Republican Party has pretty effectively inoculated Jews against the GOP for a generation. Hence the smallness of George W. Bush’s gains among Jewish voters in 2004, despite heading the most aggressively pro-Israel administration in history.
That said, Orthodox Jews are (as Mattingly recognizes) somewhat more likely to vote Republican than Reform, Conservative, and secular Jews. And, in the current primary mode, old Jews (the preeminent type in Florida) tend to cling to Hillary Clinton (like old whites of all other religious persuasions).
As for the presumed general election match-up, there’s good reason to expect John McCain to outperform George W. Bush among Jews precisely because he is not joined at the hip (or any other place) to the religious right. Oh yes, and does Obama’s Arabic name and Muslim antecedents and black face cause some Jews some heartburn? I’m afraid the answer is yes.
So look for McCain to get 30-32 percent of the Jewish vote in November–about the same as what Reagan got in 1984, but not up to the level of Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 (36, 40), Nixon in 1972 (35), Reagan in 1980 (39), or George H.W. Bush in 1988 (35).