News Column

Republicans Make Inroads, But Most Jewish Voters Stay with Democrats

Nov. 12, 2012

Anthony Man

Jewish voters' support for President Barack Obama slipped in South Florida in 2012, but Republicans failed to peel away large numbers of Jews from their long-standing allegiance to the Democratic Party, despite a multi-year effort and millions of dollars in advertising.

Exit polls showed Jewish voters were one of Obama's strongest voting blocs in Florida. He got 66 percent of the Jewish vote, according to exit polling -- much better than the 50 percent of the overall vote he received in Florida.

Yet Obama's support from Florida Jewish voters fell from 2008, when various estimates put his total at 74 percent to 78 percent.

"It eroded a little bit," said Kathryn DePalo, a political scientist at Florida International University. "I don't see a wholesale switch for Jewish voters to run away from the Democratic Party."

Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, said getting about three in 10 Jewish voters to pick Mitt Romney was good -- but not what he had hoped for.

He's been trying to persuade Jews to vote Republican for a decade. "It's very hard. You're talking about a lot of people who have never voted for a Republican in their lives," he said.

The vote shift from 2008 to 2012 was "nothing huge and dramatic," said Ira Sheskin, of Cooper City, a geography professor at the University of Miami where he's also director of the Jewish Demography Project.

Sheskin cautioned that there are caveats that come with comparing the two elections: Obama's percentage among voters overall slipped, so that accounts for some of the decline among Jewish voters. Also, given the relatively small sample size of Jewish voters in exit polls conducted for a consortium of television networks and the Associated Press, the margin of error could be significant.

Polling for the Republican Jewish Coalition found the president got 66 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida. The liberal group J Street reported Obama got 68 percent.

Jewish voters in battleground states of Florida and Ohio were a highly coveted demographic prize in 2012. Even though Jews make up a small percentage of the population, Sheskin said they vote more often than members of most other groups.

Republican efforts to woo them involved surrogate campaigners, billboards, mailings and targeted TV ads, with much of the campaign focused on South Florida. A central thrust was to depict Obama as insufficiently supportive of Israel.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the group allocated a third of its $6.5 million budget to Florida plus an additional infusion from a political action committee at the end of the campaign.

Brooks said the results were positive. "This is the fifth out of six national elections in which we have gained market share and continue to make inroads at the expense of the Democrats, who continue to lose market share," he said.

Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Broward Democratic Party, said the Republicans didn't get much for their money. "They devoted very significant dollars to woo the Jewish vote in South Florida." he said. "That proved to be a poor investment."

One reason may be the Democratic counteroffensive that began more than a year ago to reassure Jewish voters that Obama wasn't anti-Israel. Led by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, the president's supporters visited synagogues and condominium communities and wrote articles in Jewish publications -- efforts supplemented by campaign literature, Twitter posts and a "Jewish Americans for Obama" web page.

"It was critical that we prepared early on and that we had a comprehensive and aggressive outreach for Jewish voters and never took them for granted," Wasserman Schultz said.

Sheskin said once most Jewish voters were satisfied with Obama's bona fides on Israel, they made their decision on who to vote for based on other issues. He and Ceasar said the economy was the top concern for Jewish Americans, just the way it was for every demographic group.



Source: (c)2012 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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