Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Jewish Vote

Today is the Jewish New Year. And as they say, l'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem. I'll be going to synagogue both days. My father conveniently passed on the second day of Rosh Hashanah so I can always easily find a minyan to recite kaddish on his anniversary day.

Jews certainly will be praying over the next two days, which are the start of an extended period of reflection that ends with Yom Kippur. But they'll also be eating. And they'll also be talking politics.

Jews vote predominately Democratic. There are exceptions of course - the crazy neocons being a prime example - but Jews went 75 percent for Kerry in 2004 and 81 percent for Gore in 2000. The change in percentage from 2000 to 2004 in my view was due to one thing: George Bush proved to be the most pro-Israel president of my lifetime. Clearly, he didn't help Israel for the Jewish vote, which he didn't win and knew he wouldn't win. There were other reasons.

Jews have voted Democratic for as long as I can remember and then some. Historically, the Republicans were the party of Fortune 500 companies and their employees; those companies wouldn't hire Jews until the 1970s. Also the Republican idea that "government is evil" just doesn't resonate with Jewish culture. Neither does the idea that social programs need to be privatized. Finally, the strength of the Evangelicals in the current Republican Party simply scares Jews away. Well that isn't really finally. There are a whole bunch of other reasons including Republicans embracing racists in the 1960s.

There are few states where Jews can have any sort of influence on electoral politics. Their numbers (six million or so last I checked for the US) are simply too small. One of those states where Jews can potentially have an impact is Florida, where they constitute about four percent of the population (about double the national average). In a close election, Jews in Florida can matter. This upcoming election is likely going to be very close in Florida. It's worth noting that had Palm Beach County not had its confusing "butterfly ballot" in 2000, the elderly Jews in that county would not have screwed up their ballots and Al Gore would have won the presidency.

A couple of weeks ago, a music publisher from LA asked me about the Jews in Florida. He was worried about their vote. "How do you think they'll go?" My response was, "About 70 percent." That's my best guess. I bet it will be at that level plus or minus five percent. The other 30 percent will likely not vote for Obama for three reasons: Israel, taxes, and race in that order.

Seventy percent is pretty damn good. But it's about 40,000 votes less than Kerry got. In 2004, Kerry received 80 percent of Florida's Jewish vote, but still came up short by about 400,000 votes. I'm guessing the overall numbers will be closer this time and the Jewish vote may be critical.

How can Obama do better with the Jewish vote? It's a long row to hoe to convince people that Obama will be more pro-Israel than McCain. The best you can do is say it that he'll be more like Bill Clinton than like Jimmy Carter or George Bush the elder. It's impossible to say to wealthy Florida Jews that their taxes will be lower under Obama. You can't make Obama white, either. There needs to be some other approach.

There is a cute effort out there to get young Jewish people to visit their grandparents in Florida and convince them to vote for Obama, The Great Schlep. This will help a little, but not much.

In my view, there are two words that will send a significant number of Jewish votes Obama's way, Sarah Palin. All Obama's camp has to do is go into those Southern Florida Jewish condo clubhouses and show three videos that are all on youtube. First, show the video of Sarah Palin getting blessed by the Kenyan witch hunter who claims that Jews control world finance. This video will send chills down any older Jew's spine. Jews do not vote for Christian whackos who consort with anti-Semites.

Second show the video of her interview with Charlie Gibson. In Jewish culture, nothing is more reviled than ignorance and this video shows Sarah Palin to be a tampteh (it means "dummy" for those who don't know Yiddish). Third show the video of her interview with Katie Couric. The response in those clubhouses just might be, "Oh my what a lallkeh (a porcelain doll or a woman big on appearance and short on brains) . She was a tampteh both times."

After those videos, all you need to do is mention McCain's age and medical history. Then it's time to just let everyone discuss the election and the issue of Sarah Palin.

Would this be negative campaigning? Of course. But it would be a just the facts approach. There wouldn't have to be any commentary or spin. The videos would do the damage just by themselves. A little canvasing and video playing in Jewish condo developments mightl cause thousands of votes to turn Obama's way.

I should say that this approach would be antithetical to how the Obama camp is approaching door to door canvasing. The idea is to stay positive and extoll the virtues of Obama. That's all well and good, but it ignores the fact that Obama is losing a significant percentage of votes due to fear not facts. Obama's stay positive approach assumes that voters are driven strictly by rational judgment. Many are. Many aren't. If Obama wants to win Florida, he just might have to appeal more to people's gut instincts than their heads.

1 comment:

wayne fontes said...

James Q Wilson had a similar article in the City Journal a few months ago.

I can't think of a comparable relationship between two groups in politics today. I thought about it for a couple of minutes but none come to mind.