Republicans feel confident that Romney can peel away some of Obama’s support among American Jews – especially in Florida, with its older, staunchly pro-Israel Jewish population. But on the ground, voters tell a different story.
Aside from African-Americans, Jewish-Americans have been the Democratic Party’s most steadfast constituency.
Barack Obama won an estimated 78% of the “Jewish vote” in the 2008 election, and Democratic nominees before him, like John Kerry and Bill Clinton, enjoyed similar levels of support.
But Republicans have long vowed to chip away at that loyalty, emphasizing their staunch pro-Israel positions and more aggressively courting Jewish voters.
This election season has seen that effort intensified. Romney has hammered Obama for “throwing Israel under the bus” by not taking a tougher stance on Iran, and has talked up his friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Republican Jewish Coalition, a conservative Jewish-American lobby, has released ads slamming the president for his proposal that Israel return to the borders it had before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war in order to advance the peace process.
Nationally, Jews make up only 2% of the adult population. But in the hotly contested swing state of Florida, they make up a larger share of registered voters (3.4%) and up to 8% of Floridians who end up going to the polls are Jewish. Furthermore, half of the state’s Jewish population is over 65 years old and tends to be fiercely protective of Israel.
“When elections are close, the Jewish vote in Florida can make a difference,” said
Dr. Ira M. Sheskin, director of the Jewish Demography Project at the University of Miami. “Florida’s Jews care about Israel, but like most American Jews, they care most about issues of social and economic justice. They are pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, and care about taxes, education, and gas prices.”
Sheskin pointed out that a recent Gallup survey showed 70% of Florida Jews intending to vote for Obama, and qualified the relationship between Obama and US Jews at large as “generally solid”.
Still, Sheskin noted: “If Romney can peel off some of Florida’s elderly Jews, that could decide the election.”
France24.com stopped in Palm Beach County, home to one of the country’s highest concentrations of Jewish voters – many of them retirees originally from the Northeast.
Here is what we found.
Andre Fladell, the self-titled "Prince of Palm Beach County", is an influential Democratic activist in the town of Delray Beach, one hour north of Miami. "Nothing makes me prouder than being Jewish," he said. "I have an obligation to protect my family and my culture."
Fladell campaigned for Obama in 2008. But since then, he has been disappointed, mainly because of what he sees as the president's lukewarm support of Israel. "I don't think he's anti-Israel," Fladell said. "But it's not his priority. And that's very, very troubling."
According to Fladell, a chiropractor, "Mitt Romney is not a great solution either." He therefore plans to sit this election out. Fladell predicts that the number of elderly Jews in Palm Beach County who vote for Obama this year will be "down substantially" from 2008.
Goldie Brown, also originally from New York, sees things differently: she is a passionate Obama supporter. "Obama's like my son. I watch over him, I pray for him," she said. "My granddaughter left a high-paying job to volunteer full-time for him. We love this man."
Brown often comes with a group of other elderly Jewish women -- all Obama voters -- to 3G, a bustling deli in Delray Beach where Jewish specialities like pastrami on rye and potato pancakes are served. "My dad was a union guy," she said. "We fight for all the causes."
Date created : 2012-11-02