As Drudge aggressively teased all day yesterday, the front page of today’s New York Times reports that in light of the Republican upset in NY-9, the Democratic Party is redoubling its efforts to woo Jewish voters, and plans a coordinated pushback on Israel issues.
I say bring it on. Most of the voters their efforts will reach those whose votes are not at risk, while they are likely to have a relatively low success rate with those who are considering voting Republican.
Jews don’t vote Democrat because they want the most pro-Israel candidates, at least in the way that the right expects pro-Israel to mean (i.e. actually favoring Israel over its enemies – “hard” pro-Israel views – as opposed to some sort of “peace is good for Israel and we need to bully them into it” cheat, which are “soft” pro-Israel views). Jews vote Democrat because they identify with Democratic Party and those in its coalition, feel a sense of otherness towards the Republican Party and its coalition, and tend to be liberal on other issues. Israel doesn’t make much of a difference in the voting habits of most Jews, so long as they can justify that the Democrat is minimally acceptable on the Israel issue.
If the Democrats want to be drawn into an argument of who is more pro-Israel in the hard sense (soft pro-Israel Jews aren’t ripe for GOP pickups on this issue), that is an argument we can win. To many of these folks, Obama’s Israel policies speak for themselves (Dan Senor has a good rundown over at the WSJ), and will be difficult to justify, while Republicans can easily outbid him on hard pro-Israelism. Meanwhile, the Democrats’ pushback will be putting considerable effort into triaging the soft pro-Israel votes that are not at risk anyway, and they will have distracted themselves from more effective lines of attack.
Hard pro-Israel views have become Republican, not bipartisan, making it quite difficult for Democrats to support them. Bipartisanists on the Israel issue point out that 60% or so of Americans sympathize more with the Israelis than the Palestinians.
What they do not say is that they percentage pro-Israel enough to say that the United States should lean towards Israel in the conflict is only between a quarter and a third of Americans. A Brookings study found that while nearly half of Republicans (46%) want the United States to side with Israel, only 11% of independents and 14% of Democrats do.
Thus, the hard pro-Israel coalition is approaching 2/3rds Republican (I can’t provide an exact number because the partisan breakdown of the poll is not provided). There do exist polls that show similar numbers supporting the United States leaning towards Israel as sympathizing personally with Israel, but these polls were conducted by partisan firms hired by a pro-Israel group, and the question about national policy was asked immediately after and with the same wording as the personal question. The fact that the questions got essentially the same answers should be chalked up to biased survey design.
Hard pro-Israel policies may come to be because the hard pro-Israel minority is much larger than the few percent who favor the Palestinians, and because hard pro-Israel policies generally having the assent if not support of many “soft” pro-Israel voters.
Unfortunately, however, even many hard pro-Israel Jews will still vote Democratic because other matters are more important. In my next post, I will explain what sustains Jewish support for Democrats, and what Republicans might be able to do about it