In Private, Will They (Really) Vote for a Jew?
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OpinionFrom Where I Sit

In Private, Will They (Really) Vote for a Jew?

Does what people tell a pollster represent their true feelings?

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

In this great nation, anyone – even a Jew – can grow up to be president of the United States.

That is, with the possible exception of a Socialist, according to a Gallup survey of 1,033 adults conducted between Jan. 16-29.

The good news for politically ambitious Jews is that 93 percent said they were willing to vote for a Jewish candidate “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [fill in the blank].”

But only 45 percent said that they would vote for a Socialist, while 53 percent said they would not. Gallup left unexamined the electoral chances of a Jew who also is a Socialist. Even atheists fared better, with 60 percent willing to vote for a presidential candidate with no belief in a god.

The idea (if not the fact) of a Jewish president has climbed steadily since 1937, when 46 percent told Gallup that they were willing to vote for a Jew, while 47 percent said they would not, and 8 percent had no opinion. In 1958, 62 percent answered in the affirmative. The 70 percent barrier was crossed a year later, the 80 percent threshold in 1965, and the 90 percent mark in 1999. The 93 percent figure was unchanged from April 2019. Of course, some people might hesitate to tell a pollster they wouldn’t vote for a Jew.

The question remains a hypothetical, as neither the Democrats nor Republicans have nominated a Jew as their standard bearer.

In 1978, only 26 percent were willing to vote for a “homosexual” (the term Gallup used through 2007), while today 78 percent would support a “gay or lesbian.” In 1958, only 38 percent were willing to vote for a “Negro” (the term used through 1971), but today 96 percent would vote for a “black.” Just 33 percent were willing to vote for a woman in 1937, but today 93 percent say would do so.

By various categories, the avowed willingness to vote for a Jew:

  • College graduates, 98 percent; education no further than high school, 87 percent
  • Whites, 95 percent; non-whites, 87 percent
  • Women, 94 percent; men, 91 percent
  • Age 18-34, 95 percent; age 35-54, 91 percent; age 55 and older, 92 percent
  • Democrats, 95 percent; Republicans, 92 percent; independents, 92 percent
  • Moderates, 95 percent; liberals, 92 percent; conservatives, 91 percent

Relevant to the 2020 race, 69 percent were willing to vote for a candidate age 70 or older, while 31 percent were not. That might reassure the Jews seeking the Democratic nomination: Bernie Sanders, who turns 79 in September, and Mike Bloomberg, whose 78th birthday was in February. Among other septuagenarian hopefuls, Joe Biden will turn 78 in November and Elizabeth Warren 71 in July. Republican incumbent President Donald Trump turns 74 in June.

This column was written before the Nevada caucus and South Carolina primary, but since Sanders’ narrow victories in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and as Bloomberg spends significantly in advance of the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries, there has been a spike in the Jewish press in articles contrasting the pair. And on Twitter, Jewish political arguments proliferate.

Sanders and Bloomberg appeal to different Jewish constituencies, the former to those who identify with the progressive wing of the party and the latter to those more centrist or not wanting Sanders to be the nominee. Unless one or the other drops out (which seems unlikely) or until the Democrats’ convention in July, the sniping between Jews backing Sanders and those either supporting or willing to accept Bloomberg seems destined to continue.

Mindful that an estimated 71 percent of the 2016 Jewish vote went to Hillary Clinton and that the last time a Democrat failed to win a majority of the Jewish vote was Jimmy Carter’s 45 percent in his unsuccessful 1980 re-election bid, a majority can be expected to vote for the Democratic nominee, Jewish or otherwise. Depending on who that is will determine whether their Jewish backing is closer to Clinton’s or Carter’s.

At least as of this writing, those who say they would vote for a “generally well-qualified” nominee who happens to be Jewish may have an opportunity this November to affirm that statement in the privacy of the voting booth.

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