A recent poll by the Solomon Project called "Jewish American Voting Behavior: Just the Facts 1972-2008" showed that from 1972 through 1988, Republican candidates for president attracted between 31 and 37percent of the Jewish vote, but from 1992 through 2008, the GOP share of the Jewish vote dropped to between 15% and 23%.
"Jewish voters remain much more Democratic than the rest of the electorate. Since 1984, Jewish support for Democratic candidates has been 21-34 points higher than the support from the national electorate. Jews have given even higher levels of support to Democratic congressional candidates — ranging from 71% to 80% of the two-party vote between 1976 and 2000 and from 71% to 88% since 2002.
"A majority of Jewish voters identify themselves as Democrats, and these numbers have proved remarkably stable over time," the report states.
With those kinds of lopsided numbers, one could expect the Republican Party to give up on trying to convince American Jews to vote Republican.
But last week, just three weeks before Governor Mitt Romney's scheduled visit to Israel, a delegation of the Republican Jewish Coalition led by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and Matt Brooks came to Israel to support the voter registration drive of iVoteIsrael, a grass-roots non-partisan organization seeking to register American citizens living in Israel ahead of November's election. The RJC conducted several town hall meetings in cities with large Anglo communities to drum up support for Republicans among Israel’s estimated 150,000 American Jewish voters. A significant percentage of these voters are registered in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Speaking to Israel Hayom in Washington, D.C. after their trip, Brooks and Fleischer sounded an optimistic note, saying that there was a clear trend showing Republican gains among the U.S. Jewish electorate: "Bottom line is we're gaining market share, Democrats are losing market share. The RJC is working to keep Jewish support for the GOP on the rise," says Brooks.
Israel Hayom: What did you learn on your visit to Israel?
Brooks: I learned that a lot of the American citizens who live in Israel mirror what we see of Israeli attitudes in general: They are very worried about President Obama. His policies and how he feels towards Israel. And what this means for Israel during these very dangerous and challenging times. This is without question the most important election in my lifetime. And for those who are living in Israel it's even more important because of the threats and challenges that Israel faces. They're right on the front lines of it. So as we debate here in the U.S. about a nuclear Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt, a civil war raging out of control in Syria, Hamas lobbing rockets at southern Israel on a daily basis — Americans living in Israel have to deal with that on a daily basis. So they understand how important it is to have a strong president who truly does have Israel's back. We heard a lot of people say that Obama's policies have been misguided, for instance, placing blame on Israel for building in Jerusalem, for creating an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians by building settlements, and changing long-standing U.S. policy by calling on Israel to return to the '67 borders as a precondition for discussion.
Is it not a danger placing Israel as an issue in the American election? Do we not risk becoming a partisan issue, a subject of dispute in American society?
Brooks: The reality is that you have two different visions: The Obama vision, and we've seen that for the past three-and-a-half years and what that means, and Governor Romney, who has a very different outlook, who has actually said that he would do the opposite of Obama on Israel. That's what elections are about. People looking at the candidates and where they stand on the things of concern to them and making a decision as to who they think can best lead and represent their views. The fact that Israel is talked about and the issues of the Middle East are debated in the campaign are perfectly legitimate topics, that's what campaigns are for. I don't think it is a detriment to Israel. I think it's helpful to air this out so that people can see where these candidates stand."
Why is Israel such a central issue in these elections?
Brooks: I think this administration has failed on the Israel issue in a number of very critical ways. We're no closer to stopping an Iranian nuclear weapon. The neighborhood has gotten much more unstable and dangerous. The missile threat from Hamas, the instability in Gaza, there's no progress on the peace process. The Washington Post just printed a blistering indictment of Obama's failures in the Middle East. It's an important issue in this campaign because, whoever is president, if Barack Obama is re-elected, or if Mitt Romney wins, will have to deal with this the first day they sit down in the Oval Office. The American people can understand and identify with Israel in a way that very few countries can. All across the country, in big towns and small towns, people follow these issues, people are worried about the Middle East, and they're certainly concerned about the threat from a nuclear Iran. People in America have a very special place for Israel in their heart.
Democrats accuse Republicans of turning Israel into a partisan issue, and Republicans accuse Obama of throwing Israel under the bus. Where is this argument going? And is it not causing a rift among American Jewry?
Fleischer: It already is a partisan issue. Republicans are much more supportive of Israel than the Democrats, especially at the grass-roots level. The Democratic Party at the grass-roots level has got frightening movement toward neutrality. For Romney, going to Israel is a powerful sign of the importance of foreign policy, and the importance that Israel plays at the heart of this foreign policy. In the U.S., the election is still going to overwhelmingly be about the economy — about jobs and deficits — but for the Americans in Israel it's largely about the national defense of Israel.
Brooks: Look, I wish Israel was truly a bipartisan issue. The problem is that the Democrats aren't upholding their end of the bargain. On critical issues, poll after poll shows a big gap between Democratic support for Israel and Republican support for Israel. In the latest Gallup poll, something like 78% of Republicans considered themselves pro-Israel. Amongst the Democrats that number was 52%, others said they were pro-Palestinian, and a majority said they were neutral. I'd like to see equal high support for Israel. I'd like to see rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats be equally strong on Israel. I'd want to see 100% pro-Israel on both sides. We're not saying that the elected leaders in Congress, the House, and the Senate aren't pro-Israel, they are. But if you look at polls that ask Democrats and Republicans how pro-Israel they are, there is a big, big gap. Democrats, rather than attacking Republicans, should focus on how to make the core grass roots of the Democratic Party more pro-Israel.
Most American Jews traditionally vote Democrat. Also, most American Jews are not Orthodox. How does the Republican Party hope to talk to non-Orthodox American Jews, especially about Israel?
Brooks: We talk about the challenges that Israel faces, and about the challenges we face here domestically. The U.S. economy, unlike Israel's, is faltering, we have very bad unemployment, and our economic growth is stagnant. I think that because of these things, segments of the Jewish community will vote Republican. But they're also concerned about Israel and U.S. foreign policy, and that's why we're making inroads. Recent polls show that there has been significant erosion of support for Barack Obama in the Jewish community. In 2008, [his percentage of support among Jews] was in the high 70s, now polls show him in the low 60s — high 50s.
Fleischer: Most American Jews are Democrats, and that will stay the case in this election. The goal for people like me is to make inroads into the Democratic camp. The Republicans continue at a two-decade-long trend of making those inroads. There is a lot of buyer's remorse in the Jewish community as American Jews scratch their heads and wonder about Obama's support for Israel. I think the president is going to lose significant support of Independents and Democrat Jews who he had in 2008. He'll still win the majority of the Jews but if he loses ground, that's how you win elections.
What number are you aiming for Jewish support for Romney?
Brooks: It's not so much a number. What we've seen going back over the last couple of decades is that in every national election, with the exception of 2008 where Republicans got wiped out across the board, Republicans have been gaining more and more of the Jewish vote. We've been gaining market share of the Jewish vote at the expense of the Democrats. We've been increasing in every national election. We've gone from 1992 where we had 11% of the Jewish vote, then we went up to 16% in 1996, 19% in 2000, then in 2004 we got 24% of the Jewish vote. It dipped a little in 2008 to 22%, but we fully expect and believe that in 2012 we're going to continue to make inroads, and that trend-line of increasing Republican Jewish support is going to continue upward; the Democratic trend-line of losing Jewish support is going to continue downward.
Fleischer: If Mitt Romney can get above 25% of the Jewish vote, that is a huge win for Republicans. This is the goal. Twenty-five percent probably means we win Florida. Think about it: When George W. Bush got 19%, Florida was tied, four years later Bush gets 24% — Florida's safely Republican.
Why was it so important for you to come to Israel to canvass? It's not a large constituency.
Brooks: It could be. Ari was a part of the [George W.] Bush team down in Florida that decided the election in 2000 with a little over 500 votes. We believe this is going to be a really close election and we're going to do everything in our power to have the maximum impact. There are about 150,000 eligible U.S. voters in Israel. When Romney comes to Israel he's going to talk about how he sees the issues. He's not going there to critique Barack Obama, but to lay out his vision for how he would address the threat from Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian challenges, and the Arab Spring.
Fleischer: The purpose of our trip was to register Americans to vote and to advocate that they vote for Mitt Romney. There are a lot of Americans who live there, politically it's a good-size electorate, and the American Jewish community in Israel is strongly pro-Republican. Within the 150,000 eligible American voters in Israel, the conservative estimate is that about 3 to 1 are Republicans. In Florida in 2000, 537 votes decided the presidency of the United States. Every vote counts. If this is another close election and I don't do everything in my power to convince people to go out and vote Mitt Romney, I couldn't look at myself.