Jewish Americans: Overwhelmingly for Obama

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) has an important story, “2008 Jewish Vote for Obama Exceeds All Expectations,” showing what has been clear for a century: Jewish Americans are the strongest group among whites in support for racial change and broad civil and human rights. Historically, Jewish Americans have provided the most white-group support for civil rights efforts for and by Americans of color–like the creation and sustenance of the NAACP and the Freedom Summer in the South in the 1960s. (See chapter 5 here) They have provided a disproportionate number of whites killed or injured in civil rights efforts. One reason for this strong support of racial change and civil rights is their own experience as immigrants to the U.S. who were not initially considered white, but were treated as a very “inferior not-white race” by north-European Americans. Jewish Americans still experience significant anti-Semitism, and some white supremacist groups still do not consider them “white” and engage in anti-Semitic violence of various kinds. (See chapter 5 in here, for example)

The NJDC story summarizes the election results this way:

When the general election campaign began in June of this year the consensus opinion among political pundits was that Barack Obama was going to underperform among Jewish voters. In the four presidential elections between 1992 and 2008 the Democratic presidential nominee averaged 79%. The Republican Jewish Coalition and other Republican spokespeople were quite confident that McCain would outperform past Republican nominees in the Jewish community. A few even predicted that McCain would surpass the 39% of the Jewish vote that Reagan received in 1980.

Yet, according to exit polls, the Jewish American vote for Obama was about the same as for those previous elections: Obama 78 percent; McCain 21 percent; others 1 percent. This nearly eight-in-ten Jewish voters was even higher than the percentages for Latinos and Asian Americans, who also voted very substantially for Obama. Indeed, the Jewish percentage seems to be one of the two or three highest percentages among major US racial-ethnic groups (after African Americans). Their lopsided vote was likely very important in several states.

Some Republican-oriented groups targeted Jewish Americans with ads trying to generate significant fear about Senator Obama’s policies toward Middle Eastern crises and Israel. But an email from the NJDC also lays this notion of an ad impact to rest, at least on the East Coast:

Andrew Silow-Carroll, the Editor-in-Chief of the New Jersey Jewish News, refuted the Republican Jewish ad campaign in his column this week, noting, “Considering that Republicans actually lost ground among Jewish voters [there] on Election Day — despite some real qualms about Obama — it’s reasonable to assume that the ad campaign actually turned off voters who might otherwise have voted for McCain.”