It appears to be a no-brainer: The economy — and the ills its downslide has caused — is what weighs most heavily on voters’ minds as this election season draws to a close.
It was certainly the topic of the morning at an Oct. 24 breakfast at a synagogue in Morris County, where voters came to hear Democratic congressional candidate Douglas Herbert, who is challenging Republican and incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen. (Frelinghuysen declined the invitation at the last minute, according to organizers.)
It may also be the reason that Israel seems not to figure prominently among voters’ concerns. As one said, “People right now are focusing on their livelihood and their family.”
Asked what he regards as the focus of concern as Election Day approaches, Fred Bernstein of Morristown said, “Right now, jobs is the number one issue.”
Flora Grossman of Morristown named “stimulus, taxes, health care, and jobs.” Her husband, Seymour, added that the last is particularly key. “If people have jobs,” he said, “they pay taxes and spend money,” the essential element to any recovery.
Charlotte Abberman of Morristown also pointed to the unemployment crisis. “Jobs. Job creation. People talk about job creation but the reality is in a high-tech environment, it is not as easy as it once was.”
Jason Lerner of Whippany, among the younger people in attendance, said he worries that his two children, 11 and nine, “won’t have the same opportunities I have had.” The owner of a child-care center, he said that “small-business owners are overtaxed.”
His friend Bob Goldstein, who owns a catering company, said small businesses also suffer from the reluctance of banks to offer them credit.
“To get people back to work,” Goldstein said, “we need to free up credit. After two-and-a-half years, I still can’t grow my business.”
Lerner explained why he feels so few people have put support for Israel at the top of their political priority list this year. “People right now are focusing on their livelihood and their family.” Asked if, therefore, in a poor economy being a friend of Israel is a luxury, he said, “No, but as a father and a husband, taking care of my family is number one. Israel is secondary.”
Charlotte Abberman of Morristown agreed that for her Israel was not a critical issue in this election, although it was difficult for her to let Israel go. “I’m so not in favor of Israel as a theocracy that it is not a burning issue for me,” she said with a sigh. “I’m tired of being told I’m a second-class citizen,” she added, referring to the Orthodox rabbinate’s influence over marriage, conversion, and other “Who is a Jew?” issues.
Despite its centrality, other issues besides the economy did come up, from immigration and health care to the Supreme Court to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Anita Swotinsky, a retired teacher from Hanover Township, said she thinks dealing with immigration is critical. “Many people who come here and are illegal do jobs that others don’t want, but there are a lot of resources going to them — schools and hospitals. I don’t know that we can do more about our borders. I’m not sure how to resolve this issue.”
Marion Solovay of Florham Park said, “I’m interested in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think we should get out as soon as possible.”
Flora Grossman named the Supreme Court as her number one issue. “These are lifetime appointments and they are so far to the right. I think we need some more balance.” She also raised concerns regarding extreme partisanship among politicians as a big concern. “Democrats and Republicans used to have drinks together. Now there is too much rivalry.”
For Abberman, health care is her top issue. “We need to have universal health care. We are so far behind.”
Meanwhile, the economy was also the leading issue for voters attending a program sponsored by the Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life Oct. 21 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Chanina Nakdimen, 23, of Lakewood is set to graduate from Rutgers this year, but, he said, “I may have to extend my stay if I can’t get a job.”
“When I look at it in terms of how the economy has been moving in the past two to four years, it has not been moving in the right direction,” said Nakdimen, who said he is an Independent.
Alan Antoine of East Brunswick, a retired professor of microbiology at Rutgers, also agreed that the economy — particularly the loss of jobs in New Jersey — is the main issue.
“I think Gov. Christie has some good ideas, but he’s pulling the rug out at the same time,” said Antoine, who added without being asked that he would cast his vote for Democratic incumbent Rush Holt in the heavily contested District 12 congressional race.
“Rush Holt has always been good for Rutgers,” he added. “I think he’s done a good job.”
Sydney and Barbara Gertler live in one of Monroe’s adult communities and have weathered other economic downturns and conflicts. However, they now see friends and neighbors whose retirements are less secure and they worry about their grandchildren’s futures.
“All this money we’re spending on these wars,” said Barbara. “We have the first generation that is not going to do better than their parents. What will happen to our grandchildren?”
Sydney said they had been supporters of President Barack Obama, but were now disillusioned with both parties.