The nonpartisan Solomon Project released a new study of Jewish voting patterns in presidential elections from 1972 through 2008, which found that, generally but especially over the past two decades, a strikingly high percentage of Jews voted for the Democratic candidates. It also reported what Democratic officials have long been saying quietly: that the 2008 national exit poll showing that 78 percent of Jewish voters went for President Obama was a bit high, and that a look at state exit polls would bring the number closer to 75—in fact, the Solomon Project’s number is 74. It concluded, in the words of an emailed release, that “Jewish voters are, in-fact, still solidly Democratic.”
My read of this is that while the Solomon Project may be nonpartisan, the release and particularly circulation of this study are not: it helps Democrats both by continuing to advance the narrative that Mitt Romney has precious little chance of making substantial inroads among the Jewish population and, paradoxically, with that downwardly revised 2008 figure, by lowering expectations so that when Obama—in a race that, almost certainly, will overall be much closer than 2008’s—scores, say, 71 or even 69 percent of the Jewish vote, it doesn’t appear to be quite so big a drop. (UPDATE: Josh Nathan-Kazis notes that two of the pollsters have Democratic connections.)
Meanwhile, the main players in the Jewish vote battle, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council, are both busy at work. RJC head Matt Brooks is in Israel along with former President George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer for “I Vote Israel”. Basically, it’s a drive for Israel’s 160,000 eligible voters, who could actually, ostensibly, play a role in a state like Florida if it’s close; and the RJC is there, of course, to try to make sure the Republicans (who are likely more preponderant in Israel than in the States, even if they’re also still likely dwarfed by Democrats) don’t forget to fill out their absentee ballots. The most comprehensive secondhand report on Brooks and Fleischer’s efforts actually comes from Mondoweiss, which (predictably) focuses on the RJC’s efforts to get out the vote among Republicans living in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements (the RJC is also targeting U.S. voters in Israel proper). But one senses the RJC’s audience isn’t just the few Jews it addresses firsthand. According to Haaretz, Fleischer argued, “I do not ever want to have a president in the Oval Office who will make us scratch our heads and wonder, ‘Does he or does he not have Israel’s back?’” and that’s something it wants the whole country to hear.
The NJDC’s latest effort has been calling on Romney to not accept money from casino magnate and former Newt Gingrich benefactor Sheldon Adelson, who has already pledged tens of millions to affiliated SuperPACs. The grounds for these calls are allegations of prostitution at Adelson-owned casinos in Macau, China (where prostitution is largely legal, but never mind; anyway, Adelson denies the allegations). But the NJDC’s gambit may have backfired, with folks like Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman, who are center-right on Israel but staunch Democrats, strongly condemning the efforts to taint Adelson, whom both men defend as a good man and a friend to Jews and Israel.
Though both sides pay lip service, and more, to the importance of the Jewish vote and to the notion that they are messaging to the Jewish community, it’s not only that. The RJC would surely love for more Americans in Israel to vote, and vote Republican; the NJDC would surely love for Adelson to be thought of as a shanda by as many of his fellow Jews as possible. However, these groups are also logical surrogates for their respective parties and candidates when it comes to these national issues. In going to Israel, the RJC is highlighting Obama’s alleged failure to adequately sustain the U.S.-Israel relationship, which bothers more than just Jews; in attacking Adelson, the NJDC is trying to associate Romney with an unsavory donor specifically and big-money special interests generally, which is a big Democratic talking-point this year among all voters. You’re only a pawn in their game—which is another way of saying, it’s politics.
Jewish American Voting Behavior 1972-2008: Just the Facts [Solomon Project]
Republicans Woo the Settler Vote [Mondoweiss]
Is Adelson’s Money Tainted, or Not? [Forward Thinking]
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.