Making Sense of the Jewish Vote

August 20th, 2012

To: Interested Parties
From: Jim Gerstein
Date: October 10, 2012

Making Sense of the Jewish Vote
Executive Summary


As the November 2012 election approaches, here are 10 key points to keep in mind when trying to make sense of the Jewish vote (for complete analysis, click here):

  • Presidential Vote. With the exception of the 1980 election, exit polls have reported that the Democratic presidential candidate has received between 64 and 80 percent of the Jewish vote in every election going back to the first national exit poll conducted in 1972. The best Republican presidential performance over the past 40 years was Ronald Reagan, receiving 39 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980 (compared to Jimmy Carter’s 45 percent and John Anderson’s 14 percent). The Democratic presidential candidate has averaged 70 percent of the Jewish vote since 1972, and Barack Obama received 74 percent in 20081. The latest Gallup polling (through September 16, 2012) shows Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney by a 70-27 margin.

  • The Last Election: 2010 Mid-Terms. In the 2010 mid-term election landslide – which cost the Democrats 63 seats and was the biggest loss for any party in a House election since 1938 – Jews voted for Democrats by a 66 to 31 percent margin. The 2010 Jewish vote was more Democratic than other Democratic base groups such as unmarried women (61 percent), Hispanics (60 percent) and voters under 30 years old (55 percent). Compared to other religious groups, Jews voted less Democratic than “other” (74 percent) and “none” (68 percent), but more Democratic than Catholics (44 percent), Protestants (38 percent), and white Evangelicals (19 percent).

  • Impact of the Jewish Vote. While it is often reported that the Jewish vote can determine the outcome in key swing states, such as Florida or Pennsylvania, and ultimately decide the election, this argument disregards historical precedent and ignores the many other constituencies that constitute a much larger portion of the electorate. This argument was most recently made by Ari Fleischer during a visit to Israel with the Republican Jewish coalition, when Fleischer said, “The Democrats will win the majority of the Jewish vote, but if we can hold them to 75 percent, to 70 percent, it will be a huge victory for Republicans. It's the difference between winning and losing.” Below is the actual impact of the Jewish vote in key 2012 swing states:
    • Florida and Pennsylvania (4 percent Jewish): It requires a drop of 25 percentage points in a candidate’s Jewish vote to move one percent of the electorate in Florida and Pennsylvania
    • Nevada (3 percent Jewish): It requires a drop of 33 percentage points in a candidate’s Jewish vote to move one percent of the electorate in Nevada
    • Ohio (2 percent Jewish): It requires a drop of 50 percentage points in a candidate’s Jewish vote to move one percent of the electorate in Ohio
    • Iowa: 0 percent Jewish
    • Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina: 2008 exit polls do not show the percentage of Jews in these states; according to a study by the Berman Institute at University of Connecticut, Jews constitute less than one-half a percent of the electorate in North Carolina, 1 percent in Virginia, and 2 percent in Colorado
  • Job Approval and Israel. While Gallup has averaged a 14-point gap between President Obama’s job approval among Jews and his job approval among all Americans, the results undercut a frequently made but factually erroneous claim that Obama has a policy toward Israel that alienates Jewish voters. Gallup concluded that its results “call into question attempts to link a decline in Obama’s approval among Jews to his statements or policies on [Israel] matters important to Jewish policymakers and lobbyists.”

  • Party Identification. The Pew Research Center recently released data among different religious groups, showing that 65 percent of Jews currently identify themselves as Democrats, underscoring their standing as a base Democratic constituency (essentially the same as Pew’s 2007 report that 66 percent of Jews identify themselves as Democrats).

  • Shared Values. According to Gallup, Jews are the most liberal religious group in America – and more than twice as liberal as the country as a whole. In Gallup’s last release of ideology by religion in January 2010, Jews (43 percent liberal / 20 percent conservative) were more liberal than Catholics (19 percent liberal / 39 percent conservative), Protestants/other Christians (16 percent liberal / 46 percent conservative), and no religion/atheist/agnostic (39 percent liberal / 19 percent conservative). Looking beyond self-identified ideology, other measures reveal a very progressive constituency:
    • Gallup found in 2007 that 77 percent of Jews opposed the Iraq war, far more than any other religious group.
    • In March 2012, the Public Religion Research Institute’s (PRRI) poll of American Jews showed that 93 percent believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, 81 percent support gay marriage, 81 percent support raising taxes on people making over $1 million per year, and 73 percent believe our system unfairly favors the wealthy.
  • Republican Unfavorability. Jews do not identify with political conservatives and the Republican party. According to J Street’s 2010 election night survey, Glenn Beck (66 percent unfavorable), the Tea Party movement (74 percent unfavorable), and George W. Bush (73 percent unfavorable) all have dramatically poor standing with American Jews. In the March 2012 PRRI poll of American Jews, assessments of Mitt Romney (67 percent unfavorable) and the Republican party (76 percent unfavorable) demonstrate that Jews continue to express intense opposition to the Republican party and its current leader.

  • Jewish Voting Priorities. The economy was overwhelmingly the dominant issue for Jews (and the rest of the country) in the 2008 and 2010 elections, and it will be again in 2012. Unlike the economy which dominates the issue environment (62 percent of Jews cited it as a top voting determinant in 2010), Israel ranks toward the bottom of the list of top issues and was only cited by 7 percent of Jews who voted in the 2010 election as one of the top two issues determining their vote.

  • Arab-Israeli Conflict. Even though they do not vote based on Israel, American Jews do follow news about Israel and tend to hold progressive positions about America’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. A large majority (57 percent) support a comprehensive agreement along the Clinton parameters and 67 percent want the United States to play an active role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even if that means publicly stating its differences with both parties.

  • Equal Enthusiasm Among Republican and Democratic donors. In a July 2011 J Street survey of American Jews, 16 percent reported giving to Obama’s 2008 campaign and 4 percent reported giving to McCain’s 2008 campaign. Interestingly, this 4-to-1 ratio reflects the ratio in the 2008 Jewish vote. But, more importantly, virtually the same number of past donors to either Obama (82 percent) and McCain (80 percent) said they already have contributed or will contribute to the campaign, suggesting that there is no gap in enthusiasm between Democratic and Republican Jewish donors.


A more extensive analysis of the 2008 exit polling data available shows Obama getting 74 percent of the vote instead of the 78 percent that had been previously reported by news agencies. The analysis was conducted by the Solomon Project and uses additional interviews from the state-by-state exit polls, providing a more complete dataset than what was used in prior news reports.