Only weeks before Election Day, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are turning their attention to industrial battleground states in an effort to gain ground in pivotal electoral races that are too close to call.
And, according to a new study, Jewish voters in Buck County may have a strong hand in flipping Pennsylvania, a state that could determine the next president.
Analysts consider Pennsylvania — along with Florida and Ohio — as critical swing states in this year’s election. The new study, conducted by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, billed as the first state-by-state, county-by-county examination of the Jewish population, finds that the votes of Jews in parts of Pennsylvania and Florida could be decisive in those states.
Jews in Bucks County, just northeast of Philadelphia, comprise fully 6 percent of the adult population.
“That’s three times more than the national numbers” of Jews, according to Daniel Parmer, a research associate at the Steinhardt.
“If it’s a tight race, Jewish voters could swing the election,” Parmer said.
Still, others remain dubious. Dr. Julian E. Zelizer, the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University, told NJJN he wasn’t so sure the election could hinge on the Jews in Pennsylvania. Or it might be a moot point.
“Clinton is doing pretty well in Pennsylvania, and I don’t think it’s just because of the Jews,” said Zelizer, the author of numerous books on American political history and a frequent political commentator on national and international media.
“I think the general unease and discontent with Donald Trump cuts across many lines in Pennsylvania, Florida, and other swing states with women, Latinos, Muslims,” he said, adding that Jews particularly have an “aversion to some of the elements” of Trump’s campaign, including his stance on women and minorities, including his perceived Islamophobia.
And aside from Jews’ discomfort with Trump, it was unlikely they would vote for any Republican.
“The Jewish vote has never really been part of the Republican coalition,” said Zelizer. “It’s not that he’s losing [the Jews], because he never had them. Even if Trump wasn’t running and Hillary had never run, Jews would still be a part of the Democratic coalition.”
Rabbi Aaron Gaber of Congregation Brothers of Israel in Newtown, Pa., agreed with Zelizer. “I cannot imagine the Jewish vote in Bucks County could swing Pennsylvania,” he said, because there are not enough Jews in the state to make that big a difference.
Similar to the large number of Jews in Bucks County, the 209,400 Jews who live in the Palm Beach area of Florida comprise nearly 15 percent of the adult population. Barack Obama carried Florida in 2012 by just 74,309 votes — less than 1 percent of the total vote.
And in the 2000 election, George W. Bush carried Florida by only 537 votes, giving him all of Florida’s 25 electoral votes. That edged him over the top to a total of 271 electoral votes — one more than required to defeat Democrat Al Gore and win the presidency.
The new study found that Jews are increasingly identifying as independent voters, according to Leonard Saxe, the Steinhardt institute’s director.
He pointed out that among all Jews, 54 percent said they were Democrats, 14 percent identified as Republicans, and 32 percent said they identified as neither. There was only a slight difference among Jewish millennials ages 25-34: 51 percent said they are Democrats, 12 percent identified as Republicans, and 37 percent identified as neither.
Saxe said the data used for this analysis came from 250 surveys by governments, large foundations, and organizations.
“For the first time we have accurate data on people who claim Judaism as their religion,” he said, noting that computers were used to analyze the data.
“It takes 24 to 48 hours for computers to run the models,” Saxe said. “We use dozens of different combinations to get the final model that gives us the best estimate. Previously we didn’t have the statistical tools or the computer power.”
During the presidential debate, Trump noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “not a happy camper” over the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear agreement that Clinton helped orchestrate when she was secretary of state.
Trump’s obtuse reference to the strained relations between Netanyahu and Obama was the only reference to Israel during the 90-minute debate at Hofstra University. That rift is just one of the reasons the Pew Research Center in April found overwhelming Republican support for Israel — 75 percent — compared to just 43 percent among Democrats.
Although analysts insist that both parties are pro-Israel, they point out that Democrats are often willing to be critical of Israel on issues such as West Bank settlements, while Republicans are more likely to be unconditionally supportive. Such support among Republicans, the analysts note, has been increasing for nearly 50 years.
But that has not affected the Jewish votes in presidential elections: Since 1928 — with the exception of the 1980 race between Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Jimmy Carter — approximately 70 percent of the Jewish community has voted for the Democratic candidate, according to another recently released study.
Conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, it found that even when concerns were raised by members of the Jewish community about Obama’s ties to a controversial Chicago preacher who often criticized Israel, Obama still received 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 and 69 percent four years later.
Thus, it said, despite efforts by the Republican Party to reach out to Jewish voters over the last few decades, the “liberal-Jewish-Democratic connection has strengthened, not weakened, since Ronald Reagan.”
Moreover, the study added that “Even though the Republican Party is more pro-Israel than ever, and sometimes more ‘pro-Israel’ (however you define that) than the Democratic Party, American Jewish liberalism has become a mentality, a sensibility, an ideology, a cultural identity.”
The data bear that out this year as well, as a recent American Jewish Committee poll found that 61 percent of Jewish voters favor Clinton, compared with 19 percent for Trump. And an August poll of Jewish voters in Florida by pollster Jim Gerstein put Clinton’s lead among Jews at 66 percent to 23 percent for Trump. Also, half of all contributions to the Democratic Party come from Jews, compared to just 25 percent of the money donated to the Republican Party, according to the study’s author, Gil Troy, a professor at McGill University in Montreal.
The study found also that American Jews “more than ever” are embracing their liberalism — especially this year. “United by the fear of evangelicals, ‘Trumps,’ and the Tea Party, their liberalism is defined by freedom, liberation, and autonomy.”
Said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, “The Jewish community remains extremely active in American politics and has achieved a real impact on so many levels of the political scene, yet the motivations of the community are varied and complex.
“The secret of the community’s political success can be boiled down to an intense desire to improve American society and its role in the world.”