Does the Jewish vote even matter?

In celebration of the upcoming Presidential election, GTJ is featuring a weekly column on Jewish voters, and something to do with the local Jewish community.   See below for this week’s column, and click here to take a survey so that we can learn more about the politics of our community.

If you have interest in writing this column in coming weeks, please email noa@gatherthejews.com

See week 1 of this feature.

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Stephen Richer is the President of Gather the Jews.

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Does the American Jewish vote even matter in United States Presidential Elections?

As with many Jewish questions, the answer is “maybe.”

The most obvious factor working against the importance of the Jewish vote is simply the small size of the American Jewish population.  Jews account for only 2 percent of the total population of the United States and approximately 3 to 4 percent of the electorate (Haaretz).  Comparatively, the victory margins in presidential elections since 1980 have been 10 percent, 19, 8, 5, 8, 0, 3, and 7 percent (The New York Times).  This means that even if the Jews voted as one block – 100% for one candidate – they could have tipped the popular vote in only potentially 2 of the past 8 elections.

But American elections are not determined by popular vote.  Instead, electoral votes are distributed to each of the states, and the states give the entirety (in almost all cases) of their votes to the candidate that wins the most votes in the state.

This bears on the importance of the Jewish vote.  In New York and New Jersey – the states with the two proportionally largest Jewish populations – the Jewish vote likely doesn’t matter because both states are Democratic bastions where a slight change in a small segment of the population has no chance of tipping the vote.  But in swing states – states that could be won by either the Republican or Democratic candidate – where the Jewish population is particularly large, the Jewish vote could be a deciding factor.

Consider the famous case of Florida in the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.  In that election, 35 percent of Floridian Jews voted for Bush.  Had the Florida Jewish vote reflected the national Jewish vote – in which only 21 percent of Jews voted for Bush – then Bush would have lost Florida and, accordingly, Al Gore would have been the 43rd President of The United States.

This phenomenon is not specific to Florida in 2000.  Jews make up approximately 3 percent of the voting population of Pennsylvania, a state that John Kerry won in 2004 by fewer than 200,000 votes.  The Jewish population of Philadelphia alone is approximately 254,000.   A third state that makes the Jewish vote interesting is Ohio; celebrated Jewish-politics commentator Nathan Guttman agrees by noting in Moment Magazine that, “Ohio is also a state where Jewish voters could play a role in a close race.”

With only 6.5 million Jews in the United States, the Jewish vote is hardly a dominant factor in U.S. Presidential Elections (perhaps in contrast to Jewish money – see next month’s column!).  But in certain closely contested states, the Jewish vote could be the deciding factor.  I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so – look at this recent campaign launched by the Republican Jewish Coalition centered on Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  You can be sure President Obama and the Democrats have something similar planned for these critical, and Jewish-heavy, states!

….  Chart below from the Jewish Virtual Library (December, 2011) ….

State

Estimated Jewish Population

Total Population

Jewish Percentage

Alabama

8,850

4,779,736

0.2%

Alaska

6,150

710,231

0.9%

Arizona

106,400

6,392,017

1.7%

Arkansas

1,725

2,915,918

0.1%

California

1,219,740

37,253,956

3.3%

Colorado

91,070

5,029,196

1.8%

Connecticut

116,050

3,574,097

3.2%

Delaware

15,100

897,934

1.7%

District   of Columbia

28,000

601,723

4.7%

Florida

638,635

18,801,310

3.4%

Georgia

127,670

9,687,653

1.3%

Hawaii

7,280

1,360,301

0.5%

Idaho

1,525

1,567,582

0.1%

Illinois

297,935

12,830,632

2.3%

Indiana

17,470

6,483,802

0.3%

Iowa

6,240

3,046,355

0.2%

Kansas

17,775

2,853,118

0.6%

Kentucky

11,300

4,339,367

0.3%

Louisiana

10,675

4,533,372

0.2%

Maine

13,890

1,328,361

1.0%

Maryland

238,000

5,773,552

4.1%

Massachusetts

277,980

6,547,629

4.2%

Michigan

82,270

9,883,640

0.8%

Minnesota

45,635

5,303,925

0.9%

Mississippi

1,575

2,967,297

0.1%

Missouri

59,175

5,988,927

1.0%

Montana

1,350

989,415

0.1%

Nebraska

6,100

1,826,341

0.3%

Nevada

74,400

2,700,551

2.8%

New   Hampshire

10,120

1,316,470

0.8%

New   Jersey

504,450

8,791,894

5.7%

New   Mexico

12,175

2,059,179

0.6%

New York

1,635,020

19,378,102

8.4%

North   Carolina

30,675

9,535,483

0.3%

North   Dakota

400

672,591

0.1%

Ohio

148,380

11,536,504

1.3%

Oklahoma

4,700

3,751,351

0.1%

Oregon

40,650

3,831,074

1.1%

Pennsylvania

294,925

12,702,379

2.3%

Rhode Island

18,750

1,052,567

1.8%

South   Carolina

12,545

4,625,364

0.3%