How Can Mitt Swing Florida Jews?

GOP Candidate Needs Sunshine State To Win White House


By Ira M. Sheskin

Published September 23, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
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But it is other issues will help to determine the vote of the Florida Jewish community.

About half of Florida’s Jewish population is elderly in comparison with 17% of other Floridians and only 13% of all Americans. This makes matters like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and end-of-life issues particularly important to them. As most Jews age 65 and over are retired and many of those still working are self-employed professionals, the unemployment rate affects fewer of Florida’s Jews directly than is the case for other groups. Many, however, are concerned about or are providing financial assistance to unemployed children and grandchildren directly affected by the economy. Furthermore, the sense of social justice places the unemployment rate among the issues of concern.

The vast majority of Florida’s Jewish elderly have been life-long staunch members of the Democratic Party. They are not about to change affiliation now, particularly when the differences in the parties are more pronounced than ever before. The current Republican Party is very different from that of 30 years ago, as illustrated in the 2010 book “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us” by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. The Republican Party’s base has become one made up largely of right-wing religious conservatives.

Thirty years ago, one could be a Republican and be pro-choice, pro-gay and lesbian rights, pro-immigrant and pro-science. In 2011–2012, Republican candidates (in the primaries) tried to outdo one another with their opposition to abortion, gay rights, immigrants and science. Issues of social and economic justice are very important to most Jews, as Jews support abortion rights, same-sex marriage, birth control, stem-cell research as well as a reasonable and humane solution to the illegal immigrant issue at much higher rates than other Americans. Jews have graduated college at twice the rate of other Americans. They have an appreciation and a reverence for science, and cringe at statements doubting or denying the facts of evolution and climate change.

Paul Ryan’s even more extreme views on some of these issues only exacerbate Romney’s problem.

But doesn’t Miami have a large Orthodox population, and aren’t the Orthodox more likely to vote Republican? Yes, but only about 17% of Florida’s Jews live in Miami, and only about 9% of them are Orthodox. No other Florida Jewish community is more than 4% Orthodox. Furthermore, the propensity of the Orthodox to vote Republican, while higher than that of other Jews, is still less than half.

In 2008, 23% of Jews supported McCain. The liberal Republican Romney who was governor of Massachusetts might have had some chance to make more than a minimal increase in that percentage. The Romney that Romney had to become to be chosen as the Republican nominee in 2012 will, at best, do about as well as McCain did in 2008.

Ira M. Sheskin is the director of the Jewish Demography Project of the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies at the University of Miami.


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