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Six Months Out: The U.S. Presidential Election and America’s Jews

Filed under: Operation Swords of Iron, U.S. Policy, World Jewry

Six Months Out: The U.S. Presidential Election and America’s Jews

For Jews, the 60th American presidential election has profound importance. If saving a democracy wasn’t seen as significant enough, the unfolding issues of these past months have no doubt re-energized the Jewish voter. The Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, and the Iranian missile assault on April 13, 2024, represent for specific groups of Jewish voters a renewed motivation to defend Israel; the acceleration in antisemitic rhetoric and actions have no doubt impacted mainstream Jewish voters, as well.

Correspondingly, Jewish critics of Israel are aligning with progressives in seeking to shift U.S. foreign policy away from its pro-Israel orientation, as expressed in college campus demonstrations. This will undoubtedly impact not only political conversations and debates about the role of this nation in the Middle East but will be a factor for some Jewish voters, as well.

Since the mid-1980s, Israel has not been a central factor for most Jewish voters. In 2024, we already note a higher degree of concern and attention to matters related to Israel’s security and U.S. political and military support for the Jewish state. While always a consideration, the case for Israel has accelerated on the scale of political priorities for 2024.

But to be sure, for many American Jews, the Israel card will not necessarily define their voter preferences, as there are today an array of domestic and foreign considerations driving Jewish voting concerns for this fall’s election.

Some Jews have fled the pro-Israel agenda, unhappy with the Netanyahu government and disconnected with the Jewish State’s current policies. In the case of younger Jews, this disaffection appears to be more profound, more ideological, and more challenging, including their active participation in campus actions against Israel.

Are We Looking at a Jewish Political Re-Alignment?

Historically, most American Jewish voters have been aligned with the Democratic Party. In the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden received about 68% of the Jewish vote, while Donald Trump secured 28%. The overall national vote four years ago broke 51% to 49% in favor of President Biden.

Any realignment might have been more conceivable with a different Republican standard bearer than Donald Trump. An Economist study (April 13, 2024) points to a more significant percentage of support for the former president, identifying 37% of Jewish voters embracing the GOP. A more recent Siena College-NY Times study noted the following:

Trump’s support among Jews in New York is…slipping, decreasing from 53 percent in a February poll by Siena College to 38 percent in a survey conducted between April 15 and 17, 2024.

Despite the extraordinary and forthright leadership of Joe Biden in defense of Israel, there has been a significant rise in anti-Israel sentiments, especially among Democratic Progressives and their allied groups, where Jews are encountering unprecedented anti-Semitism today. Among these factors has been the rise of post-modernist political thought and the corresponding focus on intersectionality, critical race theory, and woke culture. Among the core ideas being generated by these political themes are the following problematic notions:

  • As white persons, Jews are identified as racist, powerful, and exploitive.
  • Jews are seen as unacceptable political partners or allies due to their political and economic standing.
  • Zionism is seen as a colonialist, racist notion.
  • Israel is defined as a Western colonialist enterprise.

The language employed by Israel’s critics, labeling Jews as “occupiers,” “colonialists,” and Zionists, is sending a message that the Jewish community is no longer welcomed in progressive political spaces. I have laid out the elements that may prompt a different Jewish political outcome in earlier essays.

Recent events may also trigger a different Jewish voter response from what we have experienced. The Hamas war unfolding with Israel and the corresponding level and intensity of animosity directed against Israel and Jews over these past several months has no doubt created a significant disruption to American Jewry’s sense of security.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Washington D.C.

Based on existing polling data, an overwhelming number of Jewish Democrats oppose some or all the issues and positions that are embraced by the progressive wing of the Party. We should also remind ourselves that “American Jewish Liberalism” must be understood as a moveable concept, meaning that many Jews adopt and adjust their political inclinations based on several political, social, and economic factors as a way to align their liberal inclinations with the existing social and political realities, in the end always seeking to align their Jewish priorities with their American political identity.

Anti-Semitism: The New Measure

In a recent poll, 70% of America’s Jews indicated that they felt “less safe.” When a community believes itself to be under attack, there is also a greater tendency to seek political protection, and this raises the issue of which political party warrants its political and financial support in such a destabilizing environment.

Will these anti-Israel expressions and anti-Semitic actions produce a political tsunami among Jewish voters? While the case for Israel had not been a primary Jewish election cause in the United States for some years, what is transpiring at this time may not only make general support for Israel a high-priority political outcome in 2024 but could it also result as well in a significant shift among a segment of Jewish voters?

What role will the issue of American support for Israel play in this forthcoming election? One scenario finds United States support for the Jewish state as dividing Democratic voters more generally. In turn, how will Republicans play the Israel card in trying to attract Jewish voters? With so many issues impacting voters, it is possible that foreign policy will not serve as a driving factor for many Americans in the forthcoming 2024 campaign, as many prospective voters, according to the polls, are noting inflation, border security, abortion, and the economy as four transformative issues.

With an uncertain political season looming ahead, potentially also involving a series of third-party challenges and the presence of two relatively unpopular major party candidates, what will likely be the status of the “Jewish vote?” As this writer has noted elsewhere, over the history of American presidential campaigns, Jews have often been intrigued with and attracted to these choices.

In the past, when facing either unpopular choices or focusing on a particular policy concern, Jewish voters have opted to turn to third-party candidates to express their displeasure regarding these primary choices or to identify with the platform positions of a third-party nominee. The candidacies of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other alternative third-party choices may draw an element of disconnected voters this fall in an election literally like none other.

Additional Reflections

Generally, voting transitions occur over time, as individuals contend with issues of political loyalty while balancing their immediate concerns with the changing landscape of politics. While it remains unclear if or when Jewish voters might “switch” allegiances, what is evident as we prepare for November 2024 are the intensive conversations now underway over the impending American election campaign and, more directly, the specific political “home” that will provide Jews, with their multiple interests, a sense of security and a setting that reflects their immediate as well as longer-term priorities.

Follow the Money

Political giving is one of the core measures of how deeply an individual/group relates to the American political system. Some analysts have suggested that Jews provide the Democratic Party and its candidates with one-half of all their financial resources while offering the Republican Party about one-fourth of its campaign dollars. Whether these numbers are accurate may be less important than the economic reality of the significant degree of Jewish political support. No doubt, American Jews are intensively engaged with politics! So where in 2024 will we see these resources moving, and are we likely to see the same levels of commitment as in the past?

Who’s Out and Who’s In

The fastest-growing part of the American electorate involves voters who are becoming independents. Political parties, once a statement of family loyalty and tradition, are not attracting as many younger voters. While we do not have reliable data on Jewish voter registration, there is a belief that Gen Z Jews are paralleling the general pattern of increased independent voter registration.

Why Voter Turn-Out Is Important

About two-thirds (66%) of the voting-eligible population turned out for the 2020 presidential election – the highest rate for any national election since 1900. The 2018 election (49% turnout) had the highest rate for a midterm since 1914. Even the 2022 election’s turnout, with a slightly lower rate of 46%, exceeded that of all midterm elections since 1970. Political scientists believe that this heightened level of interest is healthy for democracy, as citizens believe that elections at this time matter. While there is a great deal of angst surrounding American politics, the engagement of voters is one of those tipping points, demonstrating how individuals believe they can make a difference.

Which Jewish Voters Matter

Jews vote in exceedingly high numbers; somewhere between 72% to 85% of Jewish voters live in “purple states” (states neither “red” nor “blue”) where the 2024 contest for the control of the Office of the President, the Senate, and the House will be determined, along with several state and local contests. As a reminder for non-American audiences, the Electoral College, not the popular vote, determines the outcome for the White House, where the winner must secure 270 Electoral Votes out of 538 electors.

Approximately 1.8 million Jewish adults, just under one-third of the total Jewish electorate, live in 25 congressional districts. Of the top 25 districts by Jewish population, nearly half are in New York, with ten districts. The remaining districts with large Jewish populations are found in seven states: Florida, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Florida’s 21st Congressional District, with 152,000 Jewish voters, and New York’s 17th Congressional District, in the Lower Hudson Valley, representing a significantly high percentage of Orthodox voters, constitute the nation’s two largest centers of Jewish voters. Identified below are some key states where the 2024 campaign may play out.

Many analysts believe that at this point, Florida (3.1% Jewish), Texas (.6%), and Ohio (1.3%) are most likely situated in the Republican column for this year’s election (parenthesis indicate percentage of Jewish voters), leaving several other states that are seen to be in play, among them, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, collectively these states have 87 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. In several of these critical states (Pennsylvania and Arizona, and to a lesser degree, Georgia), the “Jewish vote” might be particularly significant in determining the outcomes:

Pennsylvania – 2.3%

Arizona – 1.5%

Georgia – 1.2%

Michigan – .09%

Wisconsin – .06%

North Carolina – .04%

Is the Supreme Court on the Ballot?

While the question is a non-starter, for Jews, the Court is a barometer of the cultural and social well-being of the nation. Issues such as abortion, immigration, and gun violence all register on the Jewish political scale. Jews often “vote” as if they were selecting judges for this Court.

Age as a Factor

Jews are among the oldest white constituencies in the nation, and as a result, health and age-related policy issues are of particular significance to these voters. Jews are invested as well in such issues as abortion, immigration, and education, so often, polls indicate a particularly high response of Jewish voters to these policy issues.

The Hate Effect: How Antisemitism Is Driving 2024 Jewish Voters

In a recent survey, 93% of America’s Jews are seriously concerned about the increase in anti-Jewish hatred. How will this factor influence Jewish voters? We can surmise that the Jewish vote this year will consider this issue when making political choices.

Surprises Matter

Of course, there is no way to know what may happen between now and November 5th. The “unknowns” could fundamentally reshape this election. The emergence, for example, of a significant third-party candidate, court cases and their outcomes, and so much more can alter voting choices and patterns.