The Palin Factor and the Jews

The Sarah Palin political soap opera took its strangest twist on Friday when the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and possible 2012 presidential contender announced she was resigning as Alaska’s governor before the end of her first term.

What’s the likely impact on Jewish politics?  It’s hard to tell, although that won’t stop wild speculation in political circles.

It’s the conventional wisdom among Jewish politics experts that Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate was a major negative in the perpetual GOP effort to lure more Jewish voters to their side of the partisan wars.

But there’s not a lot of data suggesting that’s why McCain got only 22 percent of the Jewish vote last November.

In the 2008 American Jewish Committee survey of Jewish public opinion, 54 percent of Jews surveyed said they disapproved of her selection; only 15 percent said they disapproved of Barack Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as HIS running mate.  The Palin number is interesting but hardly overwhelming. The same poll showed John McCain getting 30 percent of the Jewish vote, which turned out to be on the high side.

A March poll by J Street, the pro-peace process lobby and political action committee, suggested Jews remain cool to Palin – but, statistically speaking, no cooler than they are to the Republican Party in general.

Despite the claims that Palin was a major negative, many political experts say a vice presidential nominee has little impact on presidential choices by voters.

But Jewish Democrats say Palin – with her overtly religious style, her talk about hunting and guns and her strong following among the most conservative Christians – sure didn’t help the GOP ticket with urban Jewish voters.

It’s also important to remember 2008 was a strong Democratic year;  Barack Obama’s 78 percent of the Jewish vote represented about what you’d expect from a community that trends strongly Democratic in a year the party was riding high, some experts say.

Bottom line: the GOP’s problems with Jewish voters run deeper than just Sarah Palin, so her possible withdrawal from electoral politics isn’t going to be a game changer.

Does that mean Obama is on track for a repeat landslide with Jewish voters in 2012?  Possibly, but every president has the potential  to get in trouble over Israel. And the president still has the potential to lose some votes on the Jewish left among those who think he’s not moving far or fast enough on issues like U.S. detainees in the war on terrorism, health care and the environment, although its hard to picture where those voters are going to go in 2012.


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.