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.”


  1. Sorry, there is no surprise here. The data cited in your post even references the fact that Jews voted for Obama at almost the exact same rate they voted for other democratic nominees since 1992. This in no way diminishes the importance of the Jewish vote, it just minimizes the idea that it is in any way surprising. It is also not surprising that the Republican Jewish Coalition (big group, i wonder??) wished to convey the sentiment that McCain might do better with Jewish voters than others have. I would assume if one tracked back to comments this organization made before each previous election you’d hear the same drum beat.

  2. Corinne Blackmer

    Yes, indeed, the media, spurred on by the Republicans, loves to report that Jewish people are “drifting” towards them and deserting the Democrats. I am so proud to disappoint them.

  3. Mordy is right, but he need not be such a Debbie Downer. Obama exceeded expectations among almost all ethnic/religious/racial/age groups. But, the point of the post is that given there was a black man on the ballot, it was especially informative that Jews were the one “white” subgroup to give a majority of their votes to Obama – that, actually, is news.

  4. Next time i will register my opinion with a big smile and more cheery language :). I was merely pointing out that the Jewish vote was 78% for Obama and since 1992 was 79%. Thus i see it as incredibly consistent and not particularly newsworthy. Had Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination i think we would have seen a very similar Jewish result. I have read elsewhere that Orthodox Jews supported McCain at a 3 to 1 margin. I don’t know what to make of that. The only surprise (?) was that the “pundits” were wrong. Though it might be difficult to imagine such a scenario given the state of the GOP, had a very right-wing republican African-American nominee prevailed the Jewish vote would not have ‘supported’ this candidate in any way more meaningful than they did McCain. Almost every Jew i spoke with supported Obama. Initially some were concerned about his perceived stance on Israel. This mistrust was in almost every case sourced to those vicious email smears (mostly to do with Obamas’s “positions” on Israel and “associations with Louis Farrakhan) which circulated in the Jewish community long before the msm picked up on the story. Yet none of the people i spoke to ever considered voting for McCain. It was always a race between Clinton and Obama. Further, and i don’t have numbers in front of me so correct me if i am wrong, during the primaries i think that the blue states with the largest Jewish communities all tilted toward Clinton. I think of NY, CA, NJ.

  5. JDF

    All good points…the msm clearly were wrong on many fronts, including Jews’ support for Obama. On another note, recall all the talk about Obama’s trouble with “white working-class” voters? Well, according to exit polls in Mississippi and Louisiana (where whites were overwhelmingly against Obama) Obama fared better with whites earning less than 50k a year, even doubling his support among those in MS. Meanwhile, many sociologists (and others) to this day still think of racism as a product of ignorant “rednecks” and not of the well-educated white elite…but there is contradictory evidence for such a belief: e.g., in MS there was no education gap.

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