No, Jews Aren’t Defecting to the GOP

tags: GOP, Jews

Josh Zeitz has taught American history and politics at Cambridge University and Princeton University and is the author of Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln's Image. He is currently writing a book on the making of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Follow him @joshuamzeitz.

In October 1972, the New York Times published a provocative article whose headline read “GOP Intensifies Drive to Attract Jews to Nixon.” Seeking to exploit Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s imprecise position on the Arab-Israeli conflict and his growing association with extreme elements in the Democratic Party, some of which identified Zionism as a neocolonial and racist political creed, the Republican machine worked in overdrive that year to peel off large numbers of American Jewish voters.

“After months of working through the so-called establishment in the Jewish community,” explained the Old Gray Lady, “the men running President Nixon’s reelection effort have taken their vigorous effort to increase his share of the normally Democratic Jewish vote into the neighborhoods and the streets of the cities.”

It didn’t work. The following month, McGovern won roughly two-thirds of the Jewish vote, according to exit polls. To be sure, the results suggested a sharp drop-off from the high levels of support—80 percent and more—that FDR (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944), Harry Truman (1948), JFK (1960), LBJ (1964) and Hubert Humphrey (1968) had enjoyed among American Jews, but they were on par with Jewish support for Adlai Stevenson (1952, 1956), Jimmy Carter (1976), Walter Mondale (1984) and Michael Dukakis (1988). In a year when McGovern carried just 31 percent of the white vote, Jews—a small but important portion of “white ethnic” America—stood out as an anomaly.

The example of 1972 is instructive today. Uproar over the Obama administration’s emerging nuclear agreement with Iran and the deteriorating relationship between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has led to a new round of hand-wringing (for Democrats) and breathless expectation (for Republicans).

Writing in the social and political context of the 1960s, the essayist Milton Himmelfarb once famously observed, “Jews earn like Episcopalians, and vote like Puerto Ricans.” Could recent events signal an end to American Jewry’s love affair with the Democratic Party? ...

Read entire article at Politico

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