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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The 2020 U.S. Elections and the Jewish Vote

Filed under: U.S. Policy, World Jewry

I’d like to address three things that Professor Windmueller said that I agree with. I’m going to present complementary material to what  Professor Windmueller presented. I don’t think we should look at it as different material but something that adds to the material that he brought up. First of all, the point he brought up about Israel not being at the center of this election. That’s absolutely consistent with the data that we collected. The issue of anti-Semitism is absolutely consistent with the data that we’ve collected over the years. One thing I would add: overwhelmingly the view of American Jewry is that the anti-Semitism is from the right and not from the left, and I think that’s one of the things we have to take a look at in the future. And the third thing that Steven mentioned as far as the love for Israel and voting behavior when it’s not in a crisis situation, I think that came out very clear in our data as well, although the concept as far as what love for Israel really means is something that I think we’re going to have to take a look at.

As much as we have to take a look at all polls and we have to see what they really mean, they really were predictably incorrect. I think a lot of people that were in the field were rolling their eyes throughout the election when we saw the predictions for a blue wave, an overwhelming Biden victory. Those are things that some of us took a look at and looked at the data and didn’t see that coming, and in fact that’s what turned out. So we have to look at polls as something that gives us information, but we have to understand really what it means, what the drawbacks, limitations, what the effects of polling really have on people, and really where that goes.

As far as the Jewish vote is concerned, we found that there was a difference between Jewish Trump voters and Jewish Biden voters as far as their willingness to publicly state that they are pro-Israel unconditionally. The bottom line, as far as the issue of why did Jewish voters vote for Biden as opposed to Trump, it came out really very clear-cut that for the Biden voters it really was the personality and less on the different policies, and for Trump voters it was the policies despite the personality that a lot of people identify President Trump with.

The background to the work that we’ve done is based on two years of research on Jewish Americans toward Israel. We’ve done focus groups and survey studies and there’s a methodological issue that I’d like to bring up. We’ve used the focus groups to get us information, we use the survey studies to test that information, and we looked at polls as an experiment. We didn’t look at polls as something that tells us what people say. We looked at polls as really giving us what are the reactions if we ask this as opposed to asking that. So it’s a little different than typical traditional polling and the conclusions that we reached were based on the consistency of looking at this throughout.

What are those conclusions that we saw? Not a surprise, most Jews see themselves as liberal. While they do see anti-Semitism, they don’t identify being anti-Israel or questioning Israel’s policy as being something anti-Semitic. They do see that anti-Semitism is almost universally a right-wing issue and very few identify this with the left. Israel-related issues were not a make-or-break situation as far as this election is concerned. There is a small hardcore of Jewish Americans that are openly antagonistic to Israel. They get a lot of press. We see them out there. And one of the things that we found that was perhaps somewhat surprising in some of our previous studies is that there’s a willingness for people that call themselves pro-Israel to vote for people that are clearly unsympathetic to what Israel is. In our previous studies we found that, overwhelmingly, many liberal Jewish voters would rather vote for a candidate such as Rashida Tlaib or Ilhan Omar over a Republican moderate even though they consider themselves pro-Israel. We have to consider really what does that mean going forward.

We see that there was some inconsistency in some of the polling data we had on Black Lives Matter between theory and practice, and this was something that gave us a hint that the polls may be wrong if people say certain things but they do something else. So we found that in the public realm people would say I support  Black Lives Matter, I support going to rallies, I support taking a knee, but when we asked them about the policies of  Black Lives Matter and their concern about Israel, we saw differences. What our data said is the difference between what people say and what people do. We saw that in a lot of other areas of our data as well in terms of what people said in focus groups and what people did in survey groups and there was a little difference between that.

We saw that there was a lot of unfamiliarity among the American Jewish community about three issues that we think are very important: the issue of Palestinian financial support for terror, the issue of Nazi-themed anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial within the Palestinian media, and the same thing in terms of Iran. When we probed for these issues, we found that the knowledge of typical American Jews was very low and they didn’t realize it. When we provided information we did see a little change in their attitudes towards some of these.

When you put all these issues down, the issue for Biden voters was clearly character and trust and it eclipsed everything else. The issue for Trump voters was the concern for left progressives, what we called left progressive extremism. This was not only their primary issue. When we took the primary and the secondary issue together, over 70 percent of the Biden voters felt that character and trust was the most important issue and 60 percent of the Trump voters said left progressive extremism.

There’s been a lot of talk of shy voters, of people who say one thing and do another thing. As we pointed out, there are shy voters on both sides. There are people who said that they would vote for Biden but actually voted for Trump, and there were people that said they would vote for Trump but actually voted for Biden. When you take the large numbers, it’s much more significant on the public Biden and private Trump vote, but the numbers are there on both sides. Israel-related issues did not play a major role as Steven pointed out earlier.

One of the things that we take a look at in terms of the Jewish American vote is: is somebody pro-Israel? Is somebody not pro-Israel? When you added a third question – is somebody definitely pro-Israel or is the term too vague – the vagueness issue really comes up a lot and that’s one of the bottom-line conclusions of this study. Pro-Israel is not a yes and no answer. It may in fact not be a very critical term that we could use anymore because of that and we really have to pay attention to this issue in terms of the conditional aspect of how voters look at pro-Israel and not pro-Israel.