Reality bites on electoral influence

By Gilbert Kahn, November 15, 2012

Election 2012 may well turn out to be historic for American Jews, but in many ways the results are ones about which Jews have been in denial.

After reality has set in, Democrats and Republicans will begin the hard job of determining the lessons to be learned from the election, including the nature and role of the 2.1 per cent of the population which constitutes American Jewry. It also needs to be a moment during which American Jews consider what their own future role is in American politics.

For all the talk about the clout of the Jewish voter, the post-election analysis has focused on Latinos, women, and young people, all key demographics for President Obama. While Jews are a small minority, 85-90 per cent vote in national elections. The conventional wisdom was that their turnout rate magnified their clout by a factor of four or five. In certain key states, since they tended to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, this clout was seen as even greater. In addition, politicians in both parties recognised that Jews historically made far more political contributions than their percentage of the national population. But this year's campaign pointed to a new financial reality for American Jews.

In Florida and Ohio, exit polls suggested that Mitt Romney only received the same 30-31 per cent of the Jewish vote that he received nationally, suggesting the intensive Republican campaign for Jewish votes in these swing states did not push the needle at all.

Hispanics are now close to 16 per cent of the national population with a projection to become 20 per cent by the end of the decade. As the number of Hispanic voters increases, including in swing states, their issues become more compelling for a candidate than those of Jewish voters. Even if Jews continue to turn out in far greater numbers than any other segment of the population, their influence as a percentage of total voters is small and declining.

In the financial realm, Sheldon Adelson can pour $70 million into campaigns and still walk away with virtually no victories to show for it. George Soros and Jeffrey Katzenberg were large donors to the Democrats, although hardly on the scale of Adelson.

Jews must now make sure their parochial interests speak to a broader electorate. That means working with coalitions and making sure they share the "Jewish" stake in issues like Israel. They must also intensify their advocacy for general and national issues, like immigration, that appeal to potential coalition partners. American Jews still retain their access but need to accept that the politics of the 21st century are changing.

Dr. Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of political science at Kean University, New Jersey

Last updated: 3:45pm, November 15 2012