Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The History of the Jewish Vote

Do you know which presidential candidate has received the most Jewish votes (it's actually a three-way tie between Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964, each with 90%)? Can you tell me which third-party candidate has fared best among Jewish voters (Socialist Eugene Debs in 1920, with 38% of the Jewish vote compared to only 3% of the overall popular vote, and running for president from prison, no less)? Did you know that the two presidents who managed to get elected while receiving the fewest Jewish votes were Richard Nixon (in 1968 with 17%) and George W. Bush (first in 2000 with 19% and again in 2004 with 25%)?

As a Jewish American, I have always taken special pride in the tendency of my demographic to support liberal candidates in presidential elections. This is not a recent trend either, for as the following data shows, Jews have gravitated toward left-wing politicians for as long as Jewish voting patterns have been recorded.

The statistics below encompass Jewish voting results in every presidential election from 1916 (where the first data regarding the Jewish vote exists) to the present. There are several noteworthy statistics from this chart that I feel are worth expounding upon:

1) The Jewish vote did not become reliably Democratic until the election of 1928, when the nominee was an outspoken progressive from New York City, Governor Alfred E. Smith. Although the Democratic party had been dependably "liberal" (by the modern definition of the term) since William Jennings Bryan's nomination 1896, it wasn't until Smith was tapped thirty-two years later that the party's left-wing ideology adopted a flavor that was especially appealing to the urban culture with which Jews throughout modern history have been strongly associated. This explains why, prior to 1928, there were such noteworthy phenomena as Socialist Eugene Debs receiving only 3% of the national vote but 38% of the Jewish vote (whereas Harding received 60% of the national vote and only 43% of the Jewish vote and his Democratic opponent received 38% of the national vote but only 19% of the Jewish vote). Jews in the past two hundred years of Western history have tended to strongly associate with a distinctly cosmopolitan brand of progressivism, and it was the Democratic party's adoption of that ideology in 1928, with the nomination of Alfred "Al" Smith, that officially brought them into the fold. Indeed, one could safely assert that Al Smith was to Jewish voters and the Democratic party the same thing that Barry Goldwater was to Southern voters and the Republican party, or what Franklin Roosevelt was to African-American voters and the Democratic party - i.e, the candidate directly responsible for making them into a dependable voting bloc and integral part of that political organization's coalition.

2) With one exception, no fewer three out of every five voting Jews (60%) have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since Alfred Smith's nomination in 1928. Indeed, this number is almost always much larger, with Democrats being able to depend upon anywhere from 70% to 79% of the Jewish vote in normal elections, and as much as 80% to 90% of the Jewish vote in elections where either the Democratic candidate was unusually popular among Jews (Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Bill Clinton) or the Republican adversary was uniquely disliked by Jews (Barry Goldwater). The number has only hovered between 60% and 69% (which is still considered a large enough figure for a group to be considered a "bloc" for a given party) when the Democratic candidate is either unusually unpopular with the general public and thus has residual effects on Jewish voting patterns (George McGovern in 1972, Michael Dukakis in 1988) or when the Republican candidate is popular with the general public to a transcendant degree (Adlai Stevenson against Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, Walter Mondale against Ronald Reagan in 1984), with likewise residual effects among Jews.
The sole exception to this rule occurred in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter's widespread unpopularity and rumored anti-Semitism caused an unprecedented number of Jewish voters to abandon him. Even then, though, a surprisingly small number of those voters supported his Republican opponent (the arch-conservative Ronald Reagan), with a substantial number of the defectors instead casting their ballots for third-party candidate John Anderson, a liberal former Republican from Illinois Indeed, not only did Anderson receive twice as many votes from Jews (14%) as he did from the general American public (7%), but he actually did better among Jews than he did from any other voting constituency in that election.
Most noteworthy of all about Jewish voting patterns in 1980, though, was the fact that once the allegedly anti-Jewish candidate (Jimmy Carter) was off the Democratic ticket - as occurred in the subsequent election in 1984 - Jews gravitated back to their traditional home in the Democratic party. Indeed, the very fact that Mondale - who fared much worse with the general public in 1984 then Carter did in 1980 - managed to significantly out-perform Carter among Jewish voters further demonstrates the nature in which Jews' temporary defection from the Democratic party in 1980 was due to specific animus against Jimmy Carter, rather than any deep-rooted alteration of partisan allegiance.

3) It is worth noting that Israel does not play nearly the pivotal role in determining Jewish voting patterns as many pundits assert. In 1948, the year President Truman recognized the State of Israel, he received only 75% of the Jewish, down 15% from the amount received by Democrats in the previous two elections and the lowest number received by any Democrat in twenty years (although still high enough to count as a bloc). That said, this didn't happen because of any mass defection to the Republican ticket; Truman's opponent, Thomas Dewey, only received 10% of the vote, the exact same percentage Republican presidential candidates had received in the previous two elections.
So where did the remaining 15% go? To Henry Wallace, a Progressive candidate with poorly-concealed ties to the Communist party. Although Wallace's support of Israel was suspect, one-sixth of the Jews who supported Roosevelt in the previous two elections defected to Wallace because he was more liberal than Harry Truman, despite that Democrat's key role in helping create the State of Israel. This, by the way, is in stark contrast to the overall American public, among whom Wallace won only 2% of the popular vote.

4) Jewish voters also seem remarkably unaffected by candidates who are of specific interest to the Jews as an ethnic community. In 1916 - the year a Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, made history by putting his political neck on the line to appoint the first Jew to the Supreme Court (the venerable Louis Brandeis) - President Wilson received a mere 55% of the Jewish vote, only slightly larger than the percentage he received in total from the rest of the country. Likewise, even though Al Gore made Jewish history in 2000 by selecting Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, the first time a Jew was ever nominated by a major party for the vice presidency, he received 79% of the Jewish vote in the general election - a massive figure, no doubt, but only 1% higher than that received by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, in the previous election (1996), and actually 1% lower than the amount received by Clinton in the election before that (1992). Perhaps most significant of all was the election of 1964, in which 90% of all Jewish voters voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater, thereby giving President Johnson one of their largest margin in American history (tied only with Franklin Roosevelt's percentages in 1940 and 1944), even though Goldwater was of Jewish descent on his paternal side, making him the first major party presidential candidate to have Jewish blood in him (the only other one was John Kerry in 2004, although the fact that he had a Jewish paternal grandfather was not well-known).
The common thread in all three of these elections (1916, 1964, and 2000) was the Jewish preference for liberalism irrespective of any additional ethnic identification. The Democratic and Republican candidates in 1916 (Wilson and Hughes respectively) were both well-known liberals, the Republican in 1964 was unusually conservative even for his own party, and the Democrat in 2000 was a standard liberal running against a Republican who was a standard conservative. Hence the Jewish community was essentially split in 1916, unusually forceful in its opposition to the Republican in 1964, and as dependably Democratic (without being uniquely more so or less so) in 2000 as ever before - all without regard to the issue of Jewish self-identification.

5) Third-party candidates that are extremely conservative either fail to receive any Jewish votes (such as segregationist Strom Thurmond in 1948 or any of the fascist parties) or a significantly smaller percentage than from the mainstream (segregationist George Wallace received 14% of the general vote in 1968, but only 2% of the Jewish vote).
Liberal third-party candidates, however, generally fare much better; third-party candidate Eugene McCarthy - who earned just under 1% of the total vote in 1976 - received 2% of the Jewish vote, due to his well-known liberalism. The same trend can be spotted among most other left-wing third-party contendes, such as Robert La Follette in 1924, who received 16% of the general vote but 22% of the Jewish vote, and the figures posted by Socialist Eugene Debs in 1920 (38% of Jews compared to 3% of the general public), Progressive Henry Wallace in 1948 (15% of Jews compared to 2% of the general public), and Independent John Anderson in 1980 (14% of Jews compared to 7% of the general public), all of which were mentioned above. Indeed, the sole exception to this rule was Ralph Nader in 2000, who received a lower proportion of Jewish votes than he did those of the general public (1% of the Jewish vote compared to 3% of the general public). Why Nader fared so much more poorly among Jewish voters is difficult to say, although I personally suspect it's because - unlike other left-wing third-party candidates - there was very little ideological difference between Nader and the Democratic alternative, Gore.
Finally, third-party candidates who are essentially non-ideological in nature (namely Ross Perot) tend to do less well among Jewish voters than among the general public, although they do not crash and burn to the same degree that extremely conservative third-party candidates do.

6) Of the fourteen presidents who were elected between 1928 and 2008, the most popular (when incorporating both averages and statistical modes) among Jewish voters was Franklin Roosevelt, and the least popular (using the same method) was George W. Bush. The distinction of most popular Democrat among Jewish voters is actually a tie between Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, while the least popular Democrat was Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, the most popular Republican among Jewish voters was Dwight Eisenhower, while the least popular Republicans were (in a three-way tie) Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey, and Barry Goldwater. That said, the Jewish preference for Democrats over Republicans is so noteworthy that even the least popular Democrat (Jimmy Carter) still received more Jewish votes than the most popular Republican (Dwight Eisenhower). Just as interesting: Socialist Eugene Debs received more Jewish votes in his 1920 campaign (38%) than all but three Republicans in the entire ninety-two year period in which Jewish votes have been counted (he was surpassed by Warren Harding in 1920, Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, and Ronald Reagan in 1980).

Before I begin, I want to further add that I am separating the data into two categories - that which applies before the integration of the Jewish community into the Democratic party in 1928, and that which applies afterward. Here are the statistics from the elections of 1916, 1920, and 1924:

Woodrow Wilson (Democrat): 55% of Jewish vote, 49% of total vote
Charles Hughes (Republican): 45% of Jewish vote, 46% of total vote

Warren Harding (Republican): 43% of Jewish vote, 60% of total vote
James Cox (Democrat): 19% of Jewish vote, 38% of total vote
Eugene Debs (Socialist): 38% of Jewish vote, 3% of total vote

Calvin Coolidge (Republican): 27% of Jewish vote, 54% of total vote
John Davis (Democrat): 51% of Jewish vote, 29% of total vote
Robert La Follette (Progressive): 22% of Jewish vote, 17% of total vote

Here are the Jewish voting patterns since 1928, in what can rightly be referred to as the modern history of the Jewish electorate:

Herbert Hoover (Republican): 28% of Jewish vote, 58% of total vote
Alfred Smith (Democrat): 72% of Jewish vote, 41% of total vote

Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat): 82% of Jewish vote, 57% of popular vote
Herbert Hoover (Republican): 18% of Jewish vote, 40% of popular vote

Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat): 85% of Jewish vote, 61% of popular vote
Alfred Landon (Republican): 15% of Jewish vote, 37% of popular vote

Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat): 90% of Jewish vote, 55% of popular vote
Wendell Willkie (Republican): 10% of Jewish vote, 45% of popular vote

Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat): 90% of Jewish vote, 53% of popular vote
Thomas Dewey (Republican): 10% of Jewish vote, 46% of popular vote

Harry Truman (Democrat): 75% of Jewish vote, 50% of popular vote
Thomas Dewey (Republican): 10% of Jewish vote, 45% of popular vote
Henry Wallace (Progressive): 15% of Jewish vote, 2% of popular vote
Strom Thurmond (Dixiecrat): 0% of Jewish vote, 2% of popular vote

Dwight Eisenhower (Republican): 36% of Jewish vote, 55% of popular vote
Adlai Stevenson (Democrat): 64% of Jewish vote, 44% of popular vote

Dwight Eisenhower (Republican): 40% of Jewish vote, 57% of popular vote
Adlai Stevenson (Democrat): 60% of Jewish vote, 42% of popular vote

John Kennedy (Democrat): 82% of Jewish vote, 50% of popular vote
Richard Nixon (Republican): 18% of Jewish vote, 50% of popular vote

Lyndon Johnson (Democrat): 90% of Jewish vote, 61% of popular vote
Barry Goldwater (Republican): 10% of Jewish vote, 39% of popular vote

Richard Nixon (Republican): 17% of Jewish vote, 43% of popular vote
Hubert Humphrey (Democrat): 81% of Jewish vote, 43% of popular vote
George Wallace (Independent): 2% of Jewish vote, 14% of popular vote

Richard Nixon (Republican): 35% of Jewish vote, 61% of total vote
George McGovern (Democrat): 65% of Jewish vote, 38% of total vote

Jimmy Carter (Democrat): 71% of Jewish vote, 50% of total vote
Gerald Ford (Republican): 27% of Jewish vote, 48% of total vote
Eugene McCarthy (Independent): 2% of Jewish vote, 1% of total vote

Ronald Reagan (Republican): 39% of Jewish vote, 51% of total vote
Jimmy Carter (Democrat): 45% of Jewish vote, 41% of total vote
John Anderson (Independent): 14% of Jewish vote, 7% of total vote

Ronald Reagan (Republican): 31% of Jewish vote, 59% of total vote
Walter Mondale (Democrat): 67% of Jewish vote, 41% of total vote

George H. W. Bush (Republican): 36% of Jewish vote, 53% of total vote
Michael Dukakis (Democrat): 64% of Jewish vote, 46% of total vote

William Clinton (Democrat): 80% of Jewish vote, 43% of total vote
George H. W. Bush (Republican): 11% of Jewish vote, 38% of total vote
Ross Perot (Independent): 9% of Jewish vote, 19% of total vote

William Clinton (Democrat): 78% of Jewish vote, 49% of total vote
Robert Dole (Republican): 16% of Jewish vote, 41% of total vote
Ross Perot (Independent): 3% of Jewish, 8% of total vote

George W. Bush (Republican): 19% of Jewish vote, 48% of total vote
Albert Gore (Democrat): 79% of Jewish vote, 48% of total vote
Ralph Nader (Green): 1% of Jewish vote, 3% of total vote

George W. Bush (Republican): 25% of Jewish vote, 51% of total vote
John Kerry (Democrat): 74% of Jewish vote, 48% of total vote

Barack Obama (Democrat): 78% of Jewish vote, 53% of total vote
John McCain (Republican): 21% of Jewish vote, 46% of total vote

Jewish Support for Major Presidential Candidates (1928-Present)*:
1) Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1940) - 90%
1) Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1944) - 90%
1) Lyndon Johnson (Democrat-1964) - 90%
2) Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1936) - 85%
3) Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1932) - 82%
3) John Kennedy (Democrat-1960) - 82%
4) Hubert Humphrey (Democrat-1968) - 81%
5) William Clinton (Democrat-1992) - 80%
6) Albert Gore (Democrat-2000) - 79%
7) William Clinton (Democrat-1996) - 78%
7) Barack Obama (Democrat-2008) - 78%
8) Harry Truman (Democrat-1948) - 75%
9) John Kerry (Democrat-2004) - 74%
10) Alfred Smith (Democrat-1928) - 72%
11) Jimmy Carter (Democrat-1976) - 71%
12) Walter Mondale (Democrat-1984) - 67%
13) George McGovern (Democrat-1972) - 65%
14) Adlai Stevenson (Democrat-1952) - 64%
14) Michael Dukakis (Democrat-1988) - 64%
15) Adlai Stevenson (Democrat-1956) - 60%
16) Jimmy Carter (Democrat-1980) - 45%
17) Dwight Eisenhower (Republican-1956) - 40%
18) Ronald Reagan (Republican-1980) - 39%
19) Dwight Eisenhower (Republican-1952) - 36%
19) George H. W. Bush (Republican-1988) - 36%
20) Richard Nixon (Republican-1972) - 35%
21) Ronald Reagan (Republican-1984) - 31%
22) Herbert Hoover (Republican-1928) - 28%

23) Gerald Ford (Republican-1976) - 27%
24) George W. Bush (Republican-2004) - 24%
25) John McCain (Republican-2008) - 22%
26) George W. Bush (Republican-2000) - 19%
27) Herbert Hoover (Republican-1932) - 18%
28) Richard Nixon (Republican-1960) - 18%
29) Richard Nixon (Republican-1968) - 17%
30) Robert Dole (Republican-1996) - 16%
31) Alfred Landon (Republican-1936) - 15%
32) George H. W. Bush (Republican-1992) - 11%
33) Wendell Willkie (Republican-1940) - 10%
33) Thomas Dewey (Republican-1944) - 10%
33) Thomas Dewey (Republican-1948) - 10%
33) Barry Goldwater (Republican-1964) - 10%
* - Candidates in bold won the election in question, whereas candidates who remain in plain text did not.

Jewish Vote by Party (1928-2008):
Average Democrat - 75%
Median Democrat - 78%
Average Republican - 22%
Median Republican - 19%

Preferred Democrats Among Jews (1928-2008):
1. Franklin Roosevelt (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944) - 82%, 85%, 90%, 90%, Avg. 87%
2. Lyndon Johnson (1964) - 90%
3. John Kennedy (1960) - 82%
4. Hubert Humphrey (1968) - 81%
5. William Clinton (1992, 1996) - 80%, 78%, Avg. 79%
6. Albert Gore (2000) - 79%
7. Barack Obama (2008) - 78%
8. Harry Truman (1948) - 75%
9. John Kerry (2004) - 74%
10. Alfred Smith (1928) - 72%
11. Walter Mondale (1984) - 67%
12. George McGovern (1972) - 65%
13. Michael Dukakis (1988) - 64%
14. Adlai Stevenson (1952, 1956) - 64%, 60%, Avg. 62%
15. Jimmy Carter (1976, 1980) - 71%, 45%, Avg. 58%

Preferred Republicans Among Jews (1928-2008):
1. Dwight Eisenhower (1952, 1956) - 36%, 40%, Avg. 38%
2. Ronald Reagan (1980, 1984) - 39%, 31%, Avg. 35%
3. Gerald Ford (1976) - 27%
4. George H. W. Bush (1988, 1992) - 36%, 11%, Avg. 24%
5. Richard Nixon (1960, 1968, 1972) - 18%, 17%, 35%, Avg. 23%
6. Herbert Hoover (1928, 1932) - 28%, 18%, Avg. 23%
7. George W. Bush (2000, 2004) - 19%, 24%, Avg. 22%
8. John McCain (2008) - 22%
9. Robert Dole (1996) - 16%
10. Alfred Landon (1936) - 15%
11. Wendell Willkie (1940) - 10%
11. Thomas Dewey (1944, 1948) - 10%
11. Barry Goldwater (1964) - 10%

The Future:
I would like to end this article with a prediction. It is very clear that the Jewish vote has consistently been 74%-80% Democratic within the last five presidential elections, regardless of how those candidates have fared with the general public, and the obvious question is how Barack Obama will fare among Jewish voters in 2012. Although Republicans will almost certainly attempt to characterize Obama as being anti-Israel and potentially anti-Semitic (doubtless in an effort to capitalize on lingering animosity against Jimmy Carter), their efforts against President Obama in 2012 will likely be as unsuccessful as their similar efforts against President Clinton in 1996. Although Obama has been critical of certain aspects of Israeli policy, Republicans forget that most American Jews are equally disapproving of what they perceive as human rights abuses by the Jewish State, and as previous historical trends have shown, they tend to support Democratic presidents who criticize Israel so long as their comments aren't perceived as possessing anti-Semitic overtones. Considering the large number of Jews Obama has appointed to positions of power in his administration (Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, Mona Sutphen as Deputy Chief of Staff, Elena Kagan as Solicitor General, Lawrence Summers as Director of the National Economic Council, Peter Orszag as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, James Steinberg as Deputy Secretary of State, et cetera), his association with the liberal causes most often championed by the Jewish community, and the dearth of potential Republican adversaries in 2012 who are held in high regard by Jews, the probability is that Obama will be able to depend upon at least the 78% of the Jewish vote that he received from 2008. The question of whether that number will increase depends on who the Republicans choose to oppose him. As I see it, with the sole exceptions of Rudy Giuliani and Charlie Crist, the Republicans not only lack any candidates with specific appeal to the Jewish community, but are chock full of potential nominees who rather distinctly tun off Jewish voters. Of the three frontrunners, two of them - Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin - are so strongly associated with their party's right-wing extremists that it is fair to assume that they will fare as poorly as Thomas Dewey in 1944 or Barry Goldwater in 1964, both of whom were strongly opposed by Jews due to that community's fear of right-wing zealots (Dewey was actually far from a right-wing zealot, and indeed quite liberal, but his perceived association with that group is what matters insofar as the point being discussed here is concerned). This, in turn, would promise Obama between 85% and 90% of the Jewish vote. Even the least offensive of the frontrunners, Mitt Romney, is such a generic Republican that while it is doubtful he will be viewed as especially onerous to Jewish voters, he is very unlikely to turn them on either, thus making it probable that Romney would receive between 15% and 20%, the total received by other Republicans perceived as being dull, generic, and unoffensive (such as Landon with 15% in 1936, Nixon with 17% in 1968, and Dole with 16% in 1996), and giving Obama between 80% and 85%. In short, regardless of how Obama fares with the general public in 2012, I would not be surprised to see him do better among Jewish voters than any Democrat since the 1960s.

3) "The Jews of the United States" by "The New York Times"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Difficult to say why Nader got such a low percentage of the Jewish vote? Maybe because he was an Arab? I was enjoying this article until that glaring omission.