According to opinion polls, President Bush is leading by anywhere from 2 to 8 percentage points over John Kerry. Since the margin of error is about 4 percent, this race has become very tight. Every vote is going to count on Nov. 2.
The Bush administration has therefore been reaching out to certain constituencies with its foreign policy agenda, especially the war on terror. The strategy seems to be working: It’s had a positive effect on one constituency that traditionally provides minimal support for the GOP, the Jewish community.
It appears Mr. Bush could receive the largest amount of Jewish presidential support for a Republican since Dwight D. Eisenhower received 40 percent in 1952. Having observed some studies by U.S.-based Jewish organizations, I believe Jewish support for Mr. Bush could hit close to (believe it or not) 45 percent.
That’s quite amazing, considering that Ronald Reagan, a long-time ally of Israel, only received 39 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980. But it’s even more amazing considering that Mr. Bush received a paltry 19 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000.
But a change in Jewish voting patterns is in the air. As a Jewish-born political conservative, I can tell you it’s not a one-election fluke.
The roots of this switch can be traced back more than a decade. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani received two-thirds of the Jewish vote in three elections. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan got over 50 percent of Jewish support in two mayoralty bids.And former New York Sen. Al D’Amato earned 41 percent in 1993 running against Bob Adams, a Jewish Democrat.
In fairness, Messrs. Giuliani, Riordan and D’Amato are considered to be liberal Republicans. A significant number of Jews have held liberal attitudes when it came to issues of morality and even fiscal policies. Hence, it was easy for some Jews to vote for, or run as, liberal Republicans.
That’s not the case any longer. Many Jews are coming over to the conservative way of thinking.
A 1997 American Jewish Committee survey revealed two astonishing facts. First, 80 percent of Jewish respondents favored the death penalty. Second, 60 percent were opposed to women and minorities receiving preferential treatment for hiring and promotion policies. In seven years, one can assume that the trend in each category has increased, either a little bit or a whole lot.
This seemed to confirm a 1996 Indianapolis Jewish Federation survey that Jewish positions in their particular state were transforming. The survey reported that 42 percent of respondents identified themselves as Democrats and, more surprisingly, only 29 percent described themselves as liberal.
Next, a national exit poll conducted by Voter News Service proved that Jewish votes for GOP candidates have increased.
Jewish support for Republicans surged by 60 percent during mid-term elections between 2000 and 2002. In some states, Jewish support for the GOP hit 35 percent or higher. Two conservative Jewish Republicans — Virginia’s Eric Cantor and Minnesota’s Norm Coleman — have since been elected to office.
The only remaining stumbling block is Jews voting for a Republican president or presidential candidate. An old, silly and invalid fear of Christian conservatives used to turn off many Jewish voters. That’s what caused Mr. Bush’s low numbers; in fact, Jews would have been more willing to support John McCain in 2000.
September 11 changed everything. Most Jews are pleased that Christian conservatives regularly defend Israel and condemn Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (although that’s been the case for a few decades now, truth be told). It also doesn’t hurt that Mr. Arafat recently endorsed John Kerry for president, and that Mr. Kerry described Mr. Arafat as a “statesman” and “role model” in his 1997 book, “The New War.”
Most Jews are also pleased that Mr. Bush has become the strongest ally Israel has ever had, bar none. As Mr. Bush said at a May 18 speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “By defending the freedom and prosperity and security of Israel, you’re also serving the cause of America. Our nation is stronger and safer because we have a true and dependable ally in Israel.” Although Jews only make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, a large Jewish vote for Mr. Bush will turn the tide of this close election. Jewish Democrats can deny it all they want — the fact is traditional Jewish support for their party, support that has existed more than four decades, is dwindling fast.
Jews recognize that Mr. Bush is best suited to handle the war on terror and keep America safe. More and more Jews are also starting to realize the Bush administration’s policies are better for the economy, and his tax cuts are working.
No wonder the Jewish vote may turn out to be Mr. Bush’s secret weapon in 2004.
Michael Taube is a public affairs analyst, commentator and writer based in Toronto.