Jewish vote dissipates as new ethnic groups flex muscle

Jewish vote dissipates as new ethnic groups flex muscle

Voters head to the polls in Squirrel Hill Tuesday (Chronicle photo by Ohad Cadji)
Voters head to the polls in Squirrel Hill Tuesday (Chronicle photo by Ohad Cadji)

President Obama’s broad-based coalition of minorities, women and other voting blocs propelled him to second term Tuesday night.

But on Wednesday, at least one longtime observer of Jewish voting patterns openly questioned the role Jews played today in re-electing the president — at least at the ballot box.

Steven Windmueller, professor emeritus of American Jewish affairs at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, told the Chronicle that Jews, as a voting bloc, are becoming increasingly diffused. In fact, he openly wondered if there is such a thing anymore as the “Jewish vote.” 

Where Jews once comprised about 4 percent of the electorate, Windmueller said, that portion is less than 2 percent today, raising serious questions about how much Jewish voters can sway the outcome of an election.

“It really changes what we mean and define as the Jewish vote and Jewish voters,” he said. “As the American population grows and newer larger ethnic communities are more engaged in the political process, we will see the decline and presence of the Jewish community as a political force — at least at the ballot box.”

His assertion comes as polls show that vast majority of Jewish voters, though fewer than 2008, continue to vote Democrat in the presidential election.

Exit polling reported by JTA showed the share of Jews who voted Democrat dropped to 69 percent — the same percentage reported by national polling the Republican Jewish Coalition commissioned — down from 74-78 percent in 2008, depending on the poll.

But J Street-sponsored polling showed the president received 70 percent of the Jewish vote compared to 30 percent for Gov. Mitt Romney. In Florida and Ohio, the president received 68 percent and 69 percent of the Jewish vote, respectively.

While RJC leaders point to the polls as a sign that more Jews are voting Republican, J Street says those same numbers show the well-financed campaign to turn the Jewish community from blue to red failed.
“The five-year-long effort to portray Barack Obama as weak on Israel or as having in some way abandoned traditional support of Israel in his pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has failed,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, said in a prepared statement.

The drop, if accurate is not surprising, Windmueller said. “I suggested before the election that I thought we’d see a 9 or 10 percent swing,” he said, “so obviously, we’re in that picture.”

And he added that Jews who voted Republican this time could just as easily return to their traditional power base, depending on the candidates running and the positions they espouse.  

Windmueller is not alone in his assessment that the Jewish vote as a bloc of the total electorate is shrinking.

Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll and professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall, also said the Jewish vote has become statistically difficult to measure in polling.

“We don’t break them down in our polls anymore,” he said. They’re just too few to get a reasonable sample.

The Jewish vote, like that of other ethnic groups, used to be easier to poll when they lived in separate city neighborhoods.

“In the old days there were Italian wards, Polish wards and Jewish wards,” Madonna said. “They went as blocs in that sense.”

That’s not so much the case anymore, although Jewish voters do remain concentrated in some urban and suburban areas, such as Montgomery County near Philadelphia and Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh.

Even if the Jewish vote no longer exists as a practical matter, Windmueller, who is writing a book tracing a historic overview of Jewish power, thinks Jewish influence on the electoral process is felt in other ways.

He noted Jews are well represented in journalism as reporters, editors and opinion writers. That Jews contributed heavily to causes they identify with. They can also form coalitions with like-minded groups and organizations.

“I think there are number of strategies that are very possible and quite exciting,” he said. “One is this notion of coalitions. AIPAC already [does] that in its work, finding people that share common values on the agenda AIPAC puts out — reaching out to Latino voters and Evangelical voters who have common ground.”

Madonna agreed.

“There are a fair number of Jews in the legislatures and Congress — again, way out of proportion to their actual numbers — so you can’t discount the influence Jews have in politics. I’m on a lot of TV shows with Jewish lawyers who are arguing different things.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at






























read more: