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Jews and the Enthusiasm Gap

The buzzword is enthusiasm this midterm election season. In the Wall Street Journal in early August, Robert Reich wrote about “The Obama Agenda and the Enthusiasm Gap.” By month’s end, the New York Times editorialized about “The Wrong Kind of Enthusiasm.” Across the political spectrum – and borne out in primary turnout numbers this summer – conservatives are viewed as far more excited than liberals about their candidates for U.S. House and Senate, governorships and statehouses.

Are Jews – whether due to Obama fatigue or Tea Party hype – falling into this enthusiasm gap? And will that translate into a noticeable shift in the relative rates of participation between conservative and liberal Jews?

“You’re not going to have that problem with Jews. We vote,” says Linda Berg, political director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “Jewish voters vote more than anybody else. We show up in special elections and primaries and dog catcher elections – we’re there.”

Not only that, but they’re reliably Democratic – which is why Berg sees another kind of energy this fall. Groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition and the new Emergency Committee for Israel are “really spending a lot of money trying to move this group that votes into the Republican column,” Berg said.

“There is a real attempt to whip up enthusiasm, with false claims saying Democrats and the president are detrimental to Israel,” she said.

The Republican Jewish Coalition didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Whether due to those attempts or otherwise, recent studies show Jews’ Democratic loyalty on the wane. An analysis released last month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that Jews moved from left to right between President Obama’s election and the summer of 2010 more than any other religious group studied, and more than registered voters as a whole.

According to the Pew study, between ’08 and ’10, voters overall shed their identification with the Democratic Party by four percentage points and shifted toward the Republicans by the same amount. Jews, on the other hand, had the greatest Democratic loss, by 12 percentage points, and Republican gain, by 13 percentage points. In 2010, that leaves Jewish voters at 60% Democratic and 33% Republican. (By comparison, white mainline Protestants went from 45% to 41% Democratic-identified between ’08 and ’10, and shifted to the Republican side by 45% to 49% during that time.)

Another Pew study documents that “Republicans also continue to enjoy an engagement advantage over the Democrats, which at least in part reflects the greater disposition to vote among these voting blocs that have swung their way.” That’s social science-ese for enthusiasm.

As the oft-ignored primaries of September pass by, ask your Jewish friends if they’re voting. In August primaries in the Midwest, Republicans were two and three times more likely to vote than Democrats.

Who’s psyched for November 2?

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