The Jewish Vote, One More Time

In the 2008 presidential race in New Jersey, Barack Obama defeated John McCain by 15.7%. In the governor's race in New Jersey two weeks ago, Republican Chris Christie defeated the incumbent Democratic Governor John Corzine by 4.3%.  In other words, the margin shift from one year to the next was 20%, a remarkable political swing in such a short period of time. In Virginia, the swing from 2008 to 2009 was even larger: from a 6.4% victory for Barack Obama in 2008 to a 17.4% victory for Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Republicans did better among individual subgroups among the voting population in New Jersey and Virginia (e.g., Jewish voters) in 2009 than they did in 2008. Quite simply, had the Republicans' vote share among individual subgroups remained the same in 2009 as in 2008, the results (a GOP victory in each of the governor's races) would not have occurred.  

Jewish voters are a far larger share of the total vote in New Jersey than Virginia. The 2006 American Jewish Yearbook estimates that 5.5% f the population of New Jersey is Jewish (480,000 out of just over 8.7 million residents) compared to 1.3% of the population of Virginia (98,000 out of just over 7.5 million residents).  New Jersey has the 4th-highest Jewish population in the country after New York, California, and Florida, and the 2nd-highest Jewish percentage of the population, after New York.

Jews tend to have a significantly higher share of the total vote than their share of the population. This is for three reasons: Jews are older on average than other demographic subgroups (a smaller share of the Jewish population is under 18, and therefore ineligible to vote); a higher percentage of Jews who are eligible to vote are registered as compared to other Americans, and a higher percentage of Jews who are registered  turn out to vote as compared to other Americans.

The New Jersey governor's race in 2009 was hard-fought to the end, and there were significant efforts  made by Jewish Democratic groups to get out the vote for John Corzine.

The Republican Jewish Coalition had a poll conducted of New Jersey voters after the election. The survey was based on interviews with 800 voters, 72 of whom (9%) were Jewish. It is quite possible that Jews made up as much of 9% of the electorate in New Jersey this year, despite their smaller share of the population, for the reasons given above. My own estimate is that if Jews make up 2% of the population nationally, their vote share may be as much as 50% higher than that, or 3% on average. The survey by McLaughlin & Associates revealed that Corzine won 62% of the Jewish vote, Christie 38%. Almost immediately, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) and its media allies attempted to undermine the poll results as unreliable, due largely to the small survey size (and resulting high margin of error).

The issue of the small survey size for the New Jersey didn't concern the NJDC in 2006 and 2008 when very small numbers of Jews were included in the national exit poll data for these years.  The national exit poll interviews included about 200 Jews for the entire country in 2006 and around 300 in 2008.

In both cases, the share of Jews to total voters (1.5% to 2%) was significantly below the likely national Jewish vote share. The national exit polls do not pretend that they interview a random sample of voters for any ethnic subgroup, nor make any claim about the reliability of their results for any subgroups. Yet the NJDC trumpeted the national exit poll data from both years  as proof positive of Jewish voting patterns.

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman offered a very reasonable critique of reliance on national exit poll data for ethnic subgroups:
"The truth is there are a lot of issues with exit polls," particularly when it comes to measuring the Jewish vote, said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who, like Greenberg, was part of the Solomon Project analysis. He cites "cluster bias" in which voters are interviewed only in select precincts. Early exit polls also mostly come from urban areas that favor Democrats, and unlike phone polls in which all voters have an equal chance of being surveyed, only those at select voting sites are polled.
It is likely, for instance, that Orthodox Jewish voters, who heavily favor Republicans, are undercounted in the national exit polls. Has anyone ever seen the young people with clipboards conducting interviews with the Chassidic Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Election Day? Interviews with 150 Orthodox Jews in Baltimore in 2008 suggested that 85% of them voted for John McCain.

None of this is to argue that Jews have suddenly become Republican or conservative.  But in individual years, in individual elections, Jews are not as reliably Democratic as in other years. Rudy Giuliani carried the Jewish vote when he ran for mayor of New York City. It is highly likely that Chris Christie did much better among Jewish voters in New Jersey in 2009 than John McCain did nationally in 2008. It is also a good idea to avoid being outlandishly inconsistent in looking at poll results for Jewish voters. Regrettably, this has become a pattern for the NJDC -- the results are meaningful when they like them, and are not when they don't.

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.