Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
Jewish Americans may be a relatively small voting bloc, but they remain at the center of a battle for their political loyalty, with Republicans seeking to paint a dismal portrait of Democrats’ record on Israel. A new analysis of Jewish voting patterns in presidential elections from 1972 to 2008 from the nonpartisan Solomon Project, however, shows (once again) that efforts to pry a substantial number of Jewish voters away from the Democrats could be described as “mission improbable.”
According to researchers Mark Mellman, Aaron Strauss, and Kenneth Wald, “since 1984, Jewish support for Democratic candidates has been 21-34 points higher than the support from the national electorate.” Jewish voters are also much more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans (57% vs. 13%). These numbers, the researchers add, have remained “remarkably” stable over the past forty years.
In a survey conducted earlier this spring, PRRI found that 62% of Jewish voters reported that they would like to see Obama re-elected in 2012, more than twice the number who said they would prefer that a Republican candidate win the election (29%). At this point in the election, of course, Mitt Romney was still not the official Republican candidate.
The number of Jewish voters who reported that they supported Obama in the spring of 2012 is lower than the Obama’s support for Jewish voters in 2008. According to Wald and his colleagues though Obama’s actual support in 2008 was 74% and not 78% as reported in the exit polls. Obama’s support in the spring 2012 is nearly identical to the number of Jewish voters who reported supporting him at a comparable point in the 2008 election cycle (64%).
Meanwhile, Republicans’ attacks on the President, which have centered mostly on his position on Israel, are unlikely to have much weight among the majority of Jewish voters, only 4% of whom cited Israel as the most important issue ahead of the 2012 election. Although debate over the Jewish vote will likely continue right up until Election Day, if history is any guide, it seems extremely unlikely that Jewish support for Obama will differ much from that of previous Democratic presidential candidates.