Thursday, January 31, 2008

After Florida: The Jewish Vote in 2008

I don't know if anyone else has crunched the numbers, but it occurred to me that now that the Florida primary is done and gone, we finally have some usable numbers for trends in Jewish voting in this election season. We didn't have data from Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada. But Florida has a statistically useful number of Jews. Unfortunately, the exit poll data on the Republican side of the Florida primary (where all the action occurred) was too puny to derive any useful information. Only 3% of the Republican vote in Florida was Jewish; while 9% of the Democratic vote was Jewish. In raw numbers, Jews voted for the Democratic field rather than the Republican field by a margin of 3-to-1. No surprise there. American Jews in national races vote around 75% Democratic.

So while we cannot break up the Jewish vote for the Republicans (just how badly did Giuliani do amongst ex-New York Jews?), we do have a picture of how the approximately 151,000 Jewish Democratic voters broke. Hilary Clinton won 58% of the Jewish vote in the Democratic primary, besting her overall performance by 8 percentage points (only Catholic Democrats gave her a greater margin of support). Barack Obama won 26% of the Jewish vote, and John Edwards won 13%.

Put simply, now that it is a two-person race (isn't it nice not to be writing "two-man" race?), Obama has a "Jewish problem." There are two principal reasons for this. First is the false and (in the current environment) damaging charges that float along in flyers and on the blogosphere that Obama is a crypto-Muslim, or that he conducted his swearing-in ceremony to the Senate on a Qur'an, or other such gibberish. These preposterous rumors have so confounded the Obama campaign that according to Ben Smith of Politico, the candidate himself recently held a 23-minute conference call with prominent American Jewish journalists to quash the rumors. The way the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wrote it up, the journalists wanted to talk about the Middle East, and Obama wanted to talk about these charges.

Then there is the perennial issue which colors and dominates American Jewish voting concerns: Israel. Again, there is a viral campaign afoot that Obama is not "strong" on Israel -- certainly not as friendly as triangulating, pandering New York Senator Hilary Clinton has come to be. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which maintains a site which rates the American presidential candidates (entitled The Israel Factor), Obama has the lowest "Israel-friendly" rating of any serious contender. While I have great respect for this newspaper, it must be pointed out that the panel of Israelis and ex-pat Americans who make the ratings is made up of self-professed "America experts," and in my judgment is hardly reliable.

How this will all play out in the upcoming Super Duper Tuesday primaries, with significant Jewish audiences in New York, New England, and California, is unknown. And certainly there is not enough information here to glean a prediction for the Jewish vote in the national election.

Whether deserved or not, candidate Obama seems to have a "Jewish problem." This quiet, below-the-radar rumble might make a difference in the hunt for Democratic delegates, which now begins in earnest.

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