By Monika Wysocki
For the past two decades, Jews have been a strong Democratic constituency; the party has consistently been able to rely on at least three-quarters of the Jewish electorate for their votes. In fact, Jewish support for the Republican party plummeted to nearly an all-time low in 1992 when George H.W. Bush received only 11 percent of the Jewish vote—the lowest of any GOP presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater, who in 1964 garnered only 10 percent despite having a Jewish family background.
But according to recent studies, Jewish voters are turning away from the party of President Obama. A recent analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that the number of Jewish voters who identify as a Democrat has declined, while the number saying they lean toward the GOP has risen. In fact, Jews are the only religious group analyzed in which the percentage who identify themselves as Republican has risen significantly.
In 2008, 72 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats or said they leaned toward the Democratic Party and Democrats held a 52-point advantage among this group. But now, Jewish voters prefer the Democratic Party by a significantly smaller 36-point margin.
The increase in support for the GOP amongst Jews and other voters who identify with religious groups may be indicative of an impending shift in traditional constituencies—or just a reflection of the importance of social issues in this election cycle. Either way, Jewish voters are set to play critical roles in large cities within presidential swing states, such as Philadelphia, Miami and Las Vegas.
The stakes are particularly high in South Florida, home to 490,000 Jews who make up a voting bloc powerful enough to influence national elections. Andre Fladell, a longtime Jewish Democratic activist, was quoted in the Sun Sentinel as saying: “Florida is up for grabs right now. The Jewish population is not overly enthused by Obama. If that vote becomes unenthusiastic, the election goes the other way.”
Though a small percentage of the overall population, Jews have the highest voter participation rate of any demographic group. And with the feeling that “the Jewish vote is up for grabs,” all the candidates seem to be pandering. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich have all expressed pro-Israel sentiments in public debates, while the Democratic National Committee established a “Jewish outreach program” headed by senior advisers Ira Forman and David Axelrod, with an active campaign designed to set the record straight on Obama’s policies towards Israel.
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