Parsing the Jewish vote

Parsing the Jewish vote

So, nu? Did the Jews vote for Obama? What about the Orthodox?

And did having Orthodox Jewish candidates as challengers in the local fifth and ninth congressional districts draw any additional votes?

Those interested in crunching Jewish numbers in the wake of last week’s elections have different ways to go about it.

There are general exit polls, some of which break down results by religion. There were two election-night polls commissioned by Jewish groups – the Republican Jewish Coalition on the right and J-Street on the left. And there is the information that can be gleaned by poring over election district-level voting results.

The top-line number: 70 percent of Jewish voters voted to re-elect President Barack Obama, while 30 percent voted for Mitt Romney. That is according to the J-Street poll of 800 voters. A CNN exit poll showed a similar 69 percent voting for Obama.

The RJC survey of 1,000 voters found 61 percent voting for Obama, 32 percent for Romney, 1 percent for someone else, and 6 percent would not say.

The RJC touted its figures as showing a multiyear trend in increasing Republican voting among Jews.

Democrats said the decline – from 74 or 78 percent support in 2008 (the estimated actual total and the exit poll results respectively) – reflected an across-the-board lessening of enthusiasm for Obama in the wake of the tough economy, rather than the success of Republican efforts to cast the president as someone who had thrown Israel “under the bus,” in Romney’s phrase.

Closer to home, an analysis by the Orthodox Union of voting precincts across the country with high concentrations of Orthodox voters saw a drop in Democratic support in the most densely Jewish neighborhoods of Teaneck.

Obama received 47 percent of the votes in these election districts – the 11th, 12th, and 18th – down from 51 percent in 2008, and from the 52 percent that Sen. John Kerry received in his failed race against President George W. Bush in 2004.

In 2000, however, these same Teaneck precincts voted 81 percent for the Democratic ticket.


“Joe Lieberman,” said Nathan Diament, head of the OU’s Washington office, referring to the Orthodox Jewish senator who was the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee that year.

According to the J-Street survey, Obama received 59 percent of the Orthodox vote, as opposed to 71 percent of the non-Orthodox vote.

According to the RJC survey, Obama received 48 percent of the Orthodox vote, with Romney receiving 44 percent. Reform Jews, by contrast, gave 68 percent to Obama and 26 percent to Romney.

Did the Orthodox vote help the local congressional challengers?

Teaneck’s deputy mayor, Adam Gussen, clearly benefited from support in his community. In the three precincts highlighted by the OU, Gussen, a Democrat, received more than 70 percent of the vote, even as the head of the Democratic slate, Obama, pulled no more than 41 percent.

In the eastern “country club” section of Teaneck, however, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach proved slightly less popular than the top of his Republican slate, polling 31 percent of the 19th and 20th election districts, compared to Romney’s 33 percent.

In his hometown of Englewood, Boteach won a majority only in two districts: one and two, both in the city’s second ward. Even there, however, he was slightly less popular than Romney.

Another Democrat who polled well in Orthodox Teaneck – as well as in Englewood – was Sen. Robert Menendez. He received two-thirds of the vote in the OU’s Teaneck precincts – nearly double Obama’s total (although less than Gussen’s). In the two Englewood districts Boteach won, Menendez received 59 percent of the votes for Senate; Obama received only 40 percent.

Menendez has been strongly supported by pro-Israel activists; donors affiliated with NORPAC gave more than $70,000 to the Menendez campaign, making the pro-Israel group one of the senator’s leading sources of funds.

Throughout Bergen County, Obama’s support ranged from 80 percent in Hackensack to 26 percent in Franklin Lakes. Preliminary returns, excluding absentee and provisional ballots, show Obama receiving 55 percent of the county’s vote.

Writing in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, the columnist Shmuel Rosner observed that the J-Street poll showed that almost half of the Orthodox Jews who voted for Obama considered voting for Romney, half of those considering a Romney vote “seriously.” Non-Orthodox Obama voters were far less likely to have considered voting for Romney.

Rosner wondered about what that meant.

“A success for Obama surrogates? A failure of Romney surrogates? Is this group ready to move to the conservative column and just needs another push – or maybe if it didn’t move now, not even with Obama at the helm, to vote for the Republican candidate, it isn’t likely to move in the foreseeable future,” he wrote.

Rosner cautioned that observers should not get so caught up in crunching the numbers that they lose track of the bigger picture.

“One has to remember that we are talking here about 10 percent or so of the 2 percent Jewish vote. That is, 0.2 percent of the vote. A move of 20 percent of these voters to the conservative column means a shift of 0.04 percent of the vote (most of it in places like New York and New Jersey). So, if I were a Democratic operative, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over such a theoretic possibility,” he wrote.

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