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Jews, Latinos, and the crucial Florida vote
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Jews, Latinos, and the crucial Florida vote

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Once again, Florida will likely hold the key for the 2016 presidential election. At least since the infamous 2000 recount election, Florida has been one of the key swing states. Beginning in 2012, Florida is tied with New York for the third largest number of electoral votes in the country: 29. Almost 30 percent of the state is Hispanic and it boasts the most diverse Latino population in the country. It is also the state with the third largest Jewish population. 

Nineteen months before the election, the state is already a battleground, and a scorched-earth one at that. The Miami Herald is investigating the finances of announced candidate Marco Rubio, his wife, and their families. Hillary Clinton and her family foundation are under scrutiny, with journalists looking into possible criminality and/or conflicts of interest, especially in U.S. foreign policy.

Hispanic voters have been predominantly, predictably, voting Democratic. Making up 17 percent of Florida voters, depending on their demographic picture, 75-90 percent of Latino voters went Democratic in 2012. Even with its large Cuban-American population — which tends to be significantly more conservative than voters who came originally from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic — Florida’s Latino voters overall still favored the Democrats. In addition, then Sen. Hillary Clinton pulled large Latino votes in her New York Senate races, and her husband ran strongly among Hispanic voters.

In 2016, on the other hand, the Republican ticket could well include a Hispanic candidate — Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz — or a candidate, Jeb Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico. Rubio and Bush both won statewide offices in Florida. In a state where even a small swing of the Latino vote could be crucial, voters’ disagreements with Republicans over immigration could be overcome by simple ethnic loyalty. 

Florida’s 638,000 Jews represent approximately 3.3 percent of its voting population. For the Democratic candidate in 2016, these voters may be critical. Obama received almost 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 and 72 percent in 2012. In 2012 his support among South Florida Jews dropped to approximately 60 percent. Given the distinct possibility of at least a minor shift in Latino support, Hillary’s campaign will need to return the Democratic Jewish voting predisposition at least to where it was in 2008.

This should be doable for Hillary, except that since 2008 the Jewish drift away from the Democrats has been small but persistent. Hillary should still run very well among seniors, especially since more of them are women. Among the growing Orthodox Jewish population in Florida, Republicans have been making inroads. Much of this is due to serious questions being raised about the Democratic Party and its position on Israel. 

While the historically liberal Jewish majority votes Democratic, younger, more affluent Jews are more inclined to identify as independents with fewer party loyalties. If Hillary fails to stem even a slight Jewish drift, Florida could definitely go red in 2016.

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