American Jews Will Stay at Home in the Democratic Party

On the eve of Vice President Cheney's address the annual convention of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) comes another story examining the possibility of American Jews switching their partisan affiliation to the Republican Party, this one coming from Thomas B. Edsall of The Washington Post.

During the leadup to the 2004 presidential election, Republican flaks spent a great deal of time trying to convince opinionmakers inside the Beltway that George W. Bush would double or triple his support among American Jews from the previous election, potentially cutting Democratic support among a voting group that had voted Democratic in every presidential contest since 1928.

According to these hucksters, Jewish voters would flock to the GOP after realizing that Republicans are stronger on the issue of terrorism, a point that would resonate with American Jews cognizant of the continuing violence in Israel. Come November 2, 2004, though, President Bush received only 22 percent of the two-party Jewish vote, according to The Solomon Project (.pdf file), an underwhelming increase from 2000, when he received 19 percent of the two-party Jewish vote. (The Jewish two-party vote, relative to the national two-party vote, has remained nearly static since 1996, staying between 28 percent and 30 percent more Democratic than the electorate as a whole.)

The results of the 2004 election have not stopped Republicans from trying to spin journalists that Jewish voters are on the verge of a major political realignment. Republicans claim that although the legal woes of Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay are slowing American Jews' trend towards the GOP, they have not stopped the move. Edsall writes,

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said the strong loyalty of the Depression-era generation of Jewish voters to Democrats is eroding.

"We have had two presidents, Ronald Reagan and this president, who have addressed anti-Semitism in the world and threats in the world to both America and to Israel with moral clarity," he said. Still, he acknowledged, "we have a lot of work to do."

Edsall does a fine job of debunking this Republican myth, pointing out that Republicans could only point to two major Jewish donors who had switched their support from the Democratic Party to the GOP during the Bush administration and only "one rising star" among Republican Jews, Deputy House Majority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. What's more, Edsall does take time to note that George W. Bush's support among American Jews was significantly less than the support received by his father in 1988, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and 1980, Gerald Ford in 1976 or Richard Nixon in 1972.

Having talked with an array of different and disperate members of the Jewish community in recent months, I have come to the overwhelming conclusion that Jewish voters will be staying at home in the Democratic Party, both this year and in years to come. Aside from neoconservatives and the Orthodox, who were a part of the Republican coalition well before the 9/11 attacks purportedly galvanized American Jews to become Republican, I have seldom encountered an American Jew who is commited to supporting the GOP this fall. This includes traditional business conservatives who voted for the President's reelection campaign but who are now strongly supportive of the effort by Democrats to retake control of Congress in November.

So even if Dick Cheney pays lip service to Jewish voters during his speech to AIPAC tomorrow, which he certainly will do, I think it's fairly safe to say that Jewish voters will overwhelmingly support Democratic congressional candidates this fall and in many elections to come.

(If you want more on the voting patterns of American Jews, check out the aforementioned study from The Solomon Project. If you still want more information after that, email me at jonathan@mydd.com and I can send you further research on the subject.)

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