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Mitt Romney became the first Republican presidential candidate to lose the general election after garnering 30 percent of the Jewish vote.
Experts suggest Tuesday’s election results reveal a new demographic reality and that the Jewish community will play a less significant role in future elections.
President Barack Obama secured 69 percent of the Jewish vote on Tuesday. That number is down from 78 percent in 2008, according to exit polls. However, Jewish voters failed to push Romney over the top in critical swing states such as Florida and Ohio.
“Jews are less of a barometer, perhaps, than they once were,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “The old Republican game plan simply doesn’t work. This election will be remembered for the rise of other voters.”
A Republican candidate who garners 30 percent of the Jewish vote has won the White House in every presidential election cycle where reliable data is available.
Jews may be more likely to cast a ballot for the Republican but their votes now matter less in key battleground states such as Florida and Ohio.
“If this election doesn’t prove once and for all that the Jewish vote doesn’t matter in national elections, I’m not sure what will,” said one GOP strategist who tracks Jewish voting patterns. “Obama shed a significant margin of his Jewish support from 2008 … but even with George W. Bush-type Jewish support, Mitt Romney could not overcome the enormous black and Latino turnout in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. Obama lost the center of the electorate, he lost independent voters, and he hemorrhaged Jewish support.”
Jewish Republicans are encouraged to see more of their coreligionists supporting the GOP.
“The Jewish community is a liberal community,” said Tevi Troy, a Romney campaign adviser who also served as former President George W. Bush’s liaison to the Jewish community. “We’re not going to get 50 percent [of the Jewish vote], but there was a big shift suggesting that there were a significant number of Jews concerned about Israel” and other issues.
The 2012 results are both bitter and encouraging for the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) executive director Matt Brooks.
“The fact we increased the Jewish vote 50 percent from 2008 is an important metric,” Brooks said. “In 2008, the Jewish vote went for Obama four-to-one and this time went down to two-to-one.”
Republicans have not enjoyed such a sizable bump in the Jewish vote since 1972, Brooks said.
“If the Democrats don’t believe something is going on, they’re in denial,” he said. “It’s part of a trend and that may have been accelerated by Obama.”
Tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have driven Jewish voters to Romney, Brooks said.
“The discomfort with Obama in the pro-Israel Jewish community was palpable,” said Noam Neusner, a Republican strategist who served as a speechwriter in the Bush administration. “It used to be that the Democratic Party was where Jews felt most comfortable, but that is decreasing.”
Pro-Israel language was removed from the Democratic Party’s platform during this year’s convention. The language was only reinserted following a media backlash and a bitter floor fight in which a majority of Democratic delegates audibly booed the pro-Israel amendment.
Democrats “need to be looking inward at how they defend against the influence of people who booed Jerusalem at their convention,” said the RJC’s Brooks. “The greater threat is in their own home.”
Some were surprised Obama’s drop off was not higher.
“While Obama’s vote among Jews fell below 70 percent, it remains amazingly high considering the constant friction with Israel,” said Elliott Abrams, a former national security adviser for George W. Bush.
However, “Republicans may do better over time,” Abrams said, pointing to the growth in the Orthodox Jewish community, which votes Republican.
“It is clear that among Orthodox Jews the vote for Romney was high, suggesting that as the Orthodox become a larger percentage of all Jews, Republicans have a better chance,” Abrams said.
Russian Jewish voters are also a growing demographic of the electorate that tends to favor the GOP.
Democrats denied they had anything to worry about.
“Statistically, there was almost no drop off” in Jewish support for President Obama, said one Democratic operative who engaged in Jewish outreach during the election.
“However you read these numbers, the Republicans spent many millions of dollars to target Jewish voters and, even if they made a small dent in the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish vote, it took away much needed resources from swing voters who could have actually impacted the election,” the source said.
“How many undecided Jews can there possibly be?”