McCain and the Jewish Vote:

Ann Althouse deconstructs Obama's answers to questions about Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jeremiah Wright here.

Which brings me to the subject of the Jewish vote in November.

Jewish Republicans overwhelmingly favored Rudy Giuliani for president, and as a pro-choice candidate--Jews overwhelmingly and strongly favor abortion rights--with strong ties to the New York Jewish community, he would have been a formidable competitor for the Jewish vote.

McCain, however, is a reasonably strong second choice. He starts with the base of the 20-25% of Jews who voted for Bush in 2004--Jewish Republicans plus Democrats and independents who favored Bush's tough "war on terror" and pro-Israel policies, which McCain can be expected to continue. McCain also has the advantage of having an outspoken Judeophilic brother, and the support of Senator Joe Lieberman, who is extremely popular among the Jewish moderate Democrats and independents from whom McCain can try to draw support. (Very liberal Jews, like other very liberal Americans, tend to loathe Lieberman, but McCain won't get their votes regardless).

To that, one can add another fraction of the Jewish vote that was turned off by Bush's close ties to the Christian right, his own evangelical Protestantism (which many Jews unfairly and ignorantly associate with anti-Semitism), his elite WASP upbringing (Jews don't like to vote for people who remind them of people who kept their parents out of their neighborhoods, schools, and country clubs), and general bicoastal snobbery against his persona. American politics turns to some extent on the degree a particular group feels "comfortable" with a candidate, and I suspect Jews will feel far more comfortable with McCain than with Bush.

Moreover, what one might call the quasi-libertarian wing of the Jewish community--socially liberal but economically conservative--will be up for grabs. On economic matters, both Democrats are running populist economic campaigns, and McCain, unlike Bush, has a reputation for fiscal prudence. The quasi-libertarian Jews have, I think, broken heavily Democratic because of the Bush Administration's close alliance with the Christian right on issues ranging from abortion to sex education to stem cell research. McCain is conservative on abortion, but the lack of overt religiosity in his persona and campaign will help him among Jews.

Finally, McCain has a reputation as a moderate Republican, and many Jews have been willing to vote for such individuals in recent years in local and state elections (think Guiliani, Riordan, etc.), especially when the Democratic candidate is perceived to be very liberal.

So what percentage of the Jewish vote could McCain expect to get against Obama? If Obama winds up being perceived by many as implicitly hostile to the Jewish community's interests, he could do very poorly indeed. The same is true if the Republicans successfully paint Obama as a McGovernite. In 1972, Nixon received about 33% of the Jewish vote against McGovern (caveat: Nixon won in a landslide, which is unlikely to happen to McCain). In 1980, Carter, who was perceived by many Jews to be hostile, received 45%, against 40% for Reagan, and 15% for Anderson. One should keep in mind that voting Republican is much more accepted in the Jewish community today than it was back then, and the growing Russian and Orthodox Jewish communities are much more Republican than the Jewish community as a whole.

My best guess is that McCain starts with a base of 25-30% of the Jewish vote, which is probably all he'll get if Hillary Clinton manages to win the Democratic nomination, as Jews will expect a reprise of the very popular prior Clinton Administration. But Obama's close ties to the anti-Israel Farrakhan-buddy Rev. Wright, along with his very liberal views on War on Terror related issues, his extremely liberal economic positions that will turn off the quasi-libertarians, and his strong support among the elements of the Democratic Party most likely to blame our foreign policy woes on Israel and the "[Jewish] neocon cabal in the Bush Administration," suggests to me that McCain could easily get 40%. On the other hand, if McCain makes another idiotic comment along the lines of "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation," my projections will turn out to be overly optimistic.

UPDATE: Commenter "Stash" makes some good points in rebuttal:

I think DB leaves out one important aspect of the question, and, that is, Obama will agressively, and, I think, effectively campaign for Jewish votes. He has overcome supposed demographic barriers before.

He will give numerous assurances on Israel, but, probably equally important, he will be given very high marks for standing up to antisemitism in the Black community--as he did when he chided a Black audience for anti-semitism (and homophobia). And, on an emotional level, his debate answer that he would not be standing there were it not for Jewish civil rights workers who put their lives on the line in the 1960s will move a lot of people. When was the last time you heard a "Black leader" give the Jewish community its "props" for the prominent role it played in the civil rights movement without any ifs, ands or buts? In short, I think that if Obama uses his considerable political gift to campaign for the Jewish vote, he can do a lot to offset questions raised about some "secret agenda" and questionable associations.

It also seems plausible that given his popularity among Blacks and progressives generally, he could be effective in delegimatizing in these communities at least the more illegitimate criticisms of Israel and "the Lobby." In the debate, I think, he implied as much. Jews could very well see this (combined with assurances on Israel) as a very positive thing.

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