As a political science professor with a background in journalism and an upbringing as a Conservative Jew in Bergen County, Alain Sanders brings a mix of perspectives to discussion of the 2016 presidential election.
He will share his observations with an audience at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston on Sunday, Feb. 21, at 9:45 a.m. when he will speak about “Presidential Politics and the Jewish Community.”
Sanders, who is no relation to Democratic contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was born in Paris and moved with his family to New Jersey when he was nine years old. He resides in River Edge.
A graduate of Princeton University and Columbia University Law School, he was senior reporter for TIME magazine before becoming a professor of political science at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City in 2001.
He discussed his thinking about the presidential race in a Feb. 15 phone interview with NJ Jewish News.
NJJN: On the Democratic side, do you have a sense of which Jewish voters are more likely to support Sanders, and which are more likely to support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
Sanders: Jews on the Democratic side tend to reflect the general Democratic electorate. The younger Jewish people tend to find Bernie Sanders attractive as in general, younger constituencies find him appealing. The more establishment voters tend toward Hillary, because older adults believe in a bit more pragmatism. I find the younger voters’ idealism attractive, but the older voters say, “Been there, done that.”
NJJN: Do you think the debate between them will get uglier?
Sanders: It does tend to get nastier because the winner takes it all. But with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republicans and Democrats recognize that perhaps all three branches of the government are at stake, and that might temper the acrimony of the division within the Democratic Party. Both candidates very much want a 5-4 liberal majority and don’t want to do anything in the campaign that would reduce the chances of that happening.
NJJN: How significant a role will the replacement of Scalia play in the presidential campaigns in both parties?
Sanders: It is a delicate act. If the Republicans insist on doing everything they can to block a Supreme Court nomination by President Obama, it will reinforce the thinking of a large segment of the electorate that the Republicans are not capable of ruling, that they are an obstructionist party that only cares about victory.
NJJN: How significant will the debate over immigration reform be, particularly among Jewish voters?
Sanders: For the Jewish community it cuts many ways. Certainly there is sympathy for the people who are fleeing hostility and death and destruction…. On the other hand, there is terrorism, and everyone knows the Middle East is the source of terrorism, and terrorists would seek to infiltrate. There is also the situation with Iran and the consideration of which candidate will deal with Iran in a realistic way — not somebody who is trigger-happy, but somebody who is willing to pull the trigger when our national security requires it.
Like most voters, Jews tend to gravitate toward their party affiliation, but for some Jews you might see a pulling away from the Democrats. I think Republicans may have a good chance at that if they can get their act together, but they may have already done a lot of damage to their party brand given the infighting that has become a political food fight.
NJJN: Will Israel be much of an issue in the campaigns?
Sanders: I don’t think it will be much of an issue unless there is a flare-up and a military confrontation. Jewish voters have various views about Israeli politics. If you are a Democrat who believes in a more hardline position vis-a-vis the Middle East you may vote for Hillary Clinton. If you believe a more embracing attitude for Palestinians would establish peace in that area, then you may vote for Bernie Sanders.
NJJN: If the election were held today, would you hazard a guess as to who the nominees will be and who will win?
Sanders: No. It is still a long way to go. Polls do not reflect a straight trajectory until Election Day. Polls reflect only what people think at a particular moment, They don’t tell you what people will ultimately do. This election cycle is so unpredictable that it would be very risky to say what is going to happen.