Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

The Second Tuesday in November: Reflections on America and its Jewish Voters

This past Tuesday, November 8th, was seen by many to likely be a transformative moment in American politics.  Regardless of the specific results, the election process itself is providing us with some important learning outcomes and is introducing us to certain new realities about our nation and our society. As we knew, while we remain a divided polity, a degree of political balance appears to be one of the core outcomes of this contest.

Over these past ten years, we have come to see our nation operating as if we were two republics, offering fundamentally different perspectives about our country and holding conflicting beliefs about our society. This theme was richly brought forward by the 2022 exit polling.

The significant turn-out in a non-presidential election and the strong showing of young voters, in particular, provide us with some core benchmarks.  The absence of chaos and the general decorum affirming the American electorate as committed to allowing the ballot to speak for them reflected a degree of normalcy to an otherwise disruptive political climate.

The results shed light on the pain and suffering of some of us, the lack of trust and the presence of conspiracy beliefs that others of us hold about the institutions of government and our elected officials. Clearly, for some voters the issue of abortion played a defining theme, yet for others it would be crime, guns, and the economy! Voters made known their preferences through the election choices that they would make.

For Jews running for office during this election cycle, there were some victories and most certainly, some defeats! The Congress will see the return of a significant number of Jewish figures along with the introduction of several newcomers! The new governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, in coming to office publicly acknowledges how his Jewishness informs who he is. Similarly, a new member of Congress from Ohio, Greg Landsman reflects on his Jewish engagement.

Jewish voters remain primarily in the Democratic column, based on exit polling. In urban areas where crime was a core consideration, we would see some definitive voter behavior.  New York and Los Angeles were among the communities where such concerns over crime and safety were evident.  Former Congressman Lee Zeldin (R), who focused on this issue, was unable to overcome New York’s Democratic majority in his race for governor.

Colorado would see a number of Jewish officials being elected to public office, as the citizens of that state would return Jared Polis to the Governorship and Michael Bennet to the US Senate. Additional statewide Jewish winners included the Secretary Of State, Jena Griswold, and the Attorney General, Phil Weiser. In the 3rd House District of Colorado, Adam Frisch is currently involved in a tight race with a Republican incumbent.

Citing a Fox/AP national poll, spokespersons for the Republican Jewish Coalition noted that one-third of Jewish voters opted for the GOP; if that should prove to be the case, the data here represents a continuous rightward shift among some Jewish voters. By contrast, J-Street’s polling report offered a different scenario. That poll projected that 74% of respondents voted Democratic with Republicans securing  25% of the Jewish vote. By contrast, the Fox/AP poll showed a 65%-33% split among Jewish voters.  What we tend to see in non-presidential election cycles is that voters pay more attention to “bread and butter” issues than to ideological policy considerations that often define presidential contests.

In a poll underwritten by J Street, the following issues were seen as important to the 800 voters who participated in its survey:

  • The State of Democracy 55
  • Abortion 40
  • Inflation and the Economy 27
  • Climate Change 19
  • Crime 16
  • Social Security and Medicare 9
  • Health Care 7
  • Immigration 6
  • National Security 5
  • Israel 4
  • Education 3
  • Taxes 3
  • Iran 0

In recent years, many of these data points are confirmed by other surveys of Jewish audiences.

One of the key stories associated with the 2022 election was the financial investment by Pro-Israel and Jewish political organizations, as AIPAC through its PAC and its allied United Democracy Project invested in a number of key races, at times competing against J Street and its PAC funding. We would also see the involvement of PAC funding from both the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Jewish Democratic Council. The growing pattern of organized Jewish political giving maybe one of the key outcomes that we will need to monitor.

We should remind ourselves about the key patterns that help to define Jewish political behavior:

  • While the majority of Jews remain liberal/moderate, it is important to monitor the presence and potential growth of conservative Jewish behaviors.
  • We need to note that Jewish liberalism operates along a spectrum, where different ideas and influences continue to impact the character and substance of how the liberal tradition is interpreted and employed by voters.
  • Voting data confirms that significant numbers of Millennial and Gen Z Jewish voters are registering as “independents”; the shift away from party affiliation is a new phenomenon that we are seeing with younger voters in general.
  • As we note in this article, over the past five election cycles, there is an accelerated level of Jewish institutional and PAC giving.
  • One of the data points where we have limited information has to do with the political behavior of non-Trump Jewish Republicans, who may represent a significant element of the Jewish Republican bench.

Of importance, we would see ticket splitting, as voters made specific and conscious choices in Georgia, Wisconsin, and elsewhere delivering different outcomes in connection with the governors’ and senate races in these purple state settings.

Uncertainty remains as this article goes to press, as a number of House races remain to be called. Moving beyond this contest, however, as this nation prepares for its next presidential sweepstakes, will be the critical questions about how this election cycle is shaping the political fortunes of both parties moving forward!

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
Related Topics
Related Posts