Why are Jews liberal? It’s a question for the ages. With liberals becoming more anti-religion, anti-Israel and even anti-God, it’s hard to imagine why anyone who affiliates with any Jewish denomination would feel comfortable voting Democratic. Three years ago at the Democratic National Convention, a motion to discuss God and a second to affirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel were both booed by delegates. Israeli-American Jews voted overwhelmingly Republican, with 85 percent of Americans voting in Israel voting for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. So why don’t American Jews follow suit?
Stateside, Obama garnered almost 70 percent of the Jewish vote in the last election. Despite the best efforts of Republicans, few have been able to gather the Jews into their camp. Most American Jews live in states such as New York, New Jersey and California, where their vote doesn’t count for much. Yet because states like New York and New Jersey are solidly liberal, they are fundraising beacons.
In states like Ohio, however, Jewish voters could mean the difference between winning electoral votes or handing them over to Democrats. More than 100,000 Jews live in Cleveland and Columbus alone. The number of Jewish households in Columbus grew nearly 20 percent between 2001 and 2013. The Jewish community is large enough for the Jewish Federation to maintain offices in Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo and Youngstown. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney lost Ohio to Barack Obama by 166,000 votes. Winning Ohio’s sizable, and growing, Jewish population would be a big step toward GOP victory in the next presidential election.
Many strategists don’t realize that the Jewish vote is comprised of folks like Woody Allen and Sarah Silverman just as much as it encompasses Hasidic Brooklyn. Demographically, the Jewish community in the United States is as diverse as the general population, and as such, requires different messaging.
While the less observant and more liberal Jewish voters in the Northeast might be a lost cause, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of Jewish voters and the GOP. Two years ago Pew conducted a survey of American Jews and found that the Orthodox — the most religiously observant Jewish sect — is growing.
“Though Orthodox Jews constitute the smallest of the three major denominational movements, they are much younger, on average, and tend to have much larger families than the overall Jewish population,” Pew’s analysis notes. “This suggests that their share of the Jewish population will grow.”
Pew followed up this summer with a closer examination of American Orthodox Jews. The pollsters discovered an interesting trend.
“Other U.S. Jews lean heavily toward the Democratic Party, but the opposite is true of the Orthodox,” Pew reported. “As of mid-2013, 57% of Orthodox Jews identified with the Republican Party or said they leaned toward the GOP. Orthodox Jews also tend to express more conservative views on issues such as homosexuality and the size of government; that is, they are more likely than other Jews to say that homosexuality should be discouraged and that they prefer a smaller government with fewer services to a bigger government with more services.”
Why is it that Orthodox Jews lean more to the right and how can the GOP garner more than 57 percent of their support in coming years?
As any Orthodox Jew can tell you, being Jewish isn’t cheap. Many Orthodox Jewish families find themselves under a great deal of financial strain because of expensive private school tuitions for their many children. The average Orthodox household has four children. Orthodox Jews are bound to living within a set area in their community, within walking distance to a synagogue. These communities are usually in upscale areas with a majority of expensive homes. School choice, in the form of charter schools and vouchers, might be one way to lure Jews into the GOP’s camp.
Taxes in Jewish communities are on average some of the highest in the country. Local politicians, even those running for school boards, who would prioritize keeping taxes low and increases at a minimum could win support from Jews who might not otherwise consider voting Republican on the national level. While the move is controversial, Ramapo in New York is one such community where Orthodox Jews took over a local public school board in order to slow the steady rise of their own taxes.
Politicians who loudly offer alternatives to poverty with conservative ideas are the perfect ambassadors to an otherwise reticent Jewish community
Support for Israel among Republicans is at an all-time high. With a dangerous Iran deal peddled by the Obama White House, which has disrespected one of America’s most important allies at every turn, Orthodox Jews in particular have become disenchanted with the Democratic Party.
A bulk of Jewish support for Democrats lies in the party’s social policies. Liberals are seen as defenders of the poor, while Republicans are caricatured as rich cronies only looking out for themselves. Politicians who loudly offer alternatives to poverty with conservative ideas, such as U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), are the perfect ambassadors to an otherwise reticent Jewish community. The Jewish community may be perceived as affluent, but in the not-so-recent past it was anything but. Because of American Jews’ history as impoverished immigrants fleeing persecution, the community prides itself on being a defender of the underprivileged.
Given the American Jewish vote over the past several decades, it would be easy for conservatives to write off the community as a lost cause. Given the rising Jewish population in swing states and their interest in remaining active in politics, Republicans should be paying much closer attention — especially to the Orthodox community. They are a constituency waiting for Republicans outreach.
Bethany Mandel is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @bethanyshondark.