On to the Palmetto State
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Having been to Florida and with classes not beginning for another week, the question this Martin Luther King Day was whether to go down to South Carolina? Having watched last night’s Republican debate, I thought maybe despite Huntsman withdrawal, there may still be some fight left in Gingrich in South Carolina. Coupled with the other attack dogs, Governor Romney began to look like he might be getting weak in the knees. There is another debate on Thursday night which could well be the final stand for some of these contenders.
On the other hand, as a friend of mine suggested, given at least some of the focus of Kahntentions, why go to a primary state where it is probably unlikely you are able to get a good kosher corn beef sandwich. After all, as of 2011 there were only 12,545 Jews living in South Carolina or .03% of the total population.
It will only be in looking at Jewish voters in Florida that things may get interesting. Florida is the first state with a sizeable Jewish population 638,000 or 3.4%, yet this will be a Republican primary. Here again, it is very doubtful that much can be learned from the vote, regardless of how it turns out. The Florida primary is a closed primary, unlike New Hampshire, with only those registered as Republicans 29 days ago permitted to vote.
Admittedly, Jews have expressed continuing anti-Obama sentiment in national surveys and it was certainly the impression one sensed non-scientifically, two weeks ago in Florida. Nevertheless, the number of Jews who have actually changed their historic, Democratic registration to Republican has not been measured. At best some Jews might have changed to Independents, but they too cannot vote on January 31.
In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, Independent voters have attracted the largest number of registrants throughout the country over the past few years. As of last winter, the Pew Research Center reported that 37% of all American voters reported themselves to be independents or unaffiliated voters, while only 34% identified as Democratic and 28% as Republican. In Florida itself, Fox News reported in September only 41 of all voters are registered as Democrats and 36% as Republicans. Almost those who have registered, less than 25% have not registered for either party.
Exit polling in the Florida primary might show the Democrats how deep the drift has been of Jews from Obama, but given the paucity of Republican Jewish registrants, it will be difficult to extrapolate a significant number from the sample, despite how hard many will try.