The Changing Jewish Political Roadmap
By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
Based on a 2012 study of voting characteristics found among minority voters, some of the same trends present among other ethnic groups apply to Jewish voters as well. Below, we examine six areas in which these general voting patterns are reflected among Jewish voters:
1. Civically Alienated: Just as other minority communities report various constituencies becoming disconnected from particular political causes and candidates, one can find similar patterns of behavior among some Jewish constituencies. There is a parallel scenario evident among some Republican Jewish voters. “Red State Dissenters” represent Jewish Republicans who are disenchanted with the President. This segment of GOP voters, desirous of remaining loyal to their political values and their party, has begun a search of the Republican bench for someone to challenge the current President, from whom they are politically alienated.
2. Broadly Engaged: The Study referenced constituencies with broad political interests. While heavily connected to liberal Jewish policies, many Jewish Democrats face a new and significant political threat. Blue State “Traditionalists” involve pro-Israel Jewish Democrats who today are facing increasing challenges from the “progressive” wing of their party. Elements from that sector of the party hold negative views regarding the State of Israel and are seeking to break the Democratic Party’s political ties in support of the Jewish State. In response, traditional Jewish Democrats are seeking to maintain the pro-Israel connections historic to the Democratic Party.
3. Political Specialists: In this category one can find “specialty” areas among Jewish voters as well. The rebirth of “Red Diaper Baby Jewish Voters” offers one such example. If we saw in the late 1960’s a generation of voters who reflected their grandparents’ 1930’s leftwing, socialist perspectives, then what we are likely to see in this the second decade of the 21st century the grandkids of the 1960 generation acting out these same progressive politics. As part of American political behavior, one can find examples repetitive voting patterns, carried forward in a different timeframe by the offspring of those who held similar views a number of decades earlier.
4. Politically Marginalized: In this study specific reference was given to communities of voters angered by the failure of the political system to deliver on key promises or betraying core social values. Feeling marginalized, these voters double down on their political objectives. Case in point has been the emergence of “Red State Jewish Nationalists,” who in the aftermath of the “build the wall” scenario share the President’s particular focus on national security. Drawing on the President’s commitment for a safe and secure Israel, these Jewish Republican voters want to demonstrate their loyalty to this administration by adopting this domestic message and mantra of the White House.
5. Engaged Non–Voters: The 2012 study referenced a category of potential voters who opted not to participate. The highest voter turnout in recent presidential elections was in 2008 (62.2 percent), followed by 60.7 percent in 2004. The lowest turnouts of the modern era (since the Second World War) occurred in 1988, 1996 and 2000, when turnout dropped below 55 percent. 134 million Americans (58.1%) cast ballots in the 2016 presidential elections, while 97 million who were eligible to vote did not cast ballots.
One of the patterns evident in the 2016 campaign reflected the absence of younger Jews from voting booths. Possibly, for the first time in a century, we would find Jews unmoved and uncommitted to be politically committed to one candidate. Holding a set of cynical views about the influence and importance of voting, these counter-cultural “Jewish Nones,” would represent a growing segment of younger potential voters who questioned the historical commitment that Jews have demonstrated in connection with the ballot box. Literally, these folks would have “none” of the political hype, suggesting instead that they would be opting out of voting! Others in this age cohort who had expressed support for Bernie Sanders during the primary phase of the 2016 presidential race, would withdrew their political involvement, once the Senator had been eliminated from the process.
6. Donors: This sector is heavily represented among Jewish activists, who like their counterparts are seen as financially connected to political causes and candidates. The Jewish Donor Class can be found among both Democrats and Republicans who are seen as actively engaged with funding priorities associated with their respective political positions.
Now, two years after the 2016 presidential campaign, we are witnessing a number of dramatic political shifts among Jewish voters. Several of these voter-types will play important roles in the forthcoming 2020 election.
Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR, Los Angeles.