A Year to 2020 U.S. Election, the Fight for the Jewish Vote Begins

With the U.S. presidential election less than a year away, what role will the Jewish vote play in the contest for the White House? President Donald Trump has accused Jewish voters who support the Democratic Party of showing “great disloyalty,” and opinion polls show a huge majority of American Jews disapprove of his conduct as president.

Yet despite the fact that most Jews will likely support the Democratic Party’s nominee by next November, experts who spoke with Haaretz say Trump and his eventual Democratic opponent will still have good reasons to court Jewish American voters — especially in the competitive swing states that will determine the fate of the election.

Jews make up approximately 2 percent of the population in the United States and most of the community is concentrated in states that aren’t usually competitive in presidential elections, such as New York, New Jersey and California. However, there are large Jewish populations in two states that will be crucial in next year’s election: Florida and Pennsylvania, both of which Trump carried by a margin of 1 percent or less in 2016.

There are also smaller, yet still significant, Jewish communities in other states that the presidential campaigns will focus on throughout 2020, including Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Minnesota.

In past elections, most discussions about “the Jewish vote” focused almost exclusively on Florida — the ultimate swing state and the home of more than 600,000 Jews. Only New York and California have larger Jewish populations, but while the Democratic presidential candidate has won both these states in every election since the 1990s, Florida has often changed hands. Furthermore, the margin of victory between the winner and loser in the Sunshine State was in the low single digits. That makes the Jewish community — which comprises about 3 percent of Florida’s population — very valuable electorally.

President Donald Trump exiting after speaking at a campaign rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, October 11, 2019.Gerald Herbert/AP

“Overall, the Jewish vote is not really significant in determining presidential elections,” says Northeastern University’s Prof. Dov Waxman, who has written extensively over the years on the politics and culture of the American Jewish community. “The Jews are just 2 percent of the national popular vote, and most of them live in states that are politically irrelevant because of the Electoral College. But when you have very close elections — and it looks like the next election will be a close one — then the Jewish vote in the swing states does matter, because any small shift in a state like Florida or Pennsylvania can make a big difference.” Waxman tells Haaretz that when presidential candidates put out campaign messaging aimed at persuading Jewish voters, “They really don’t care how it will impact Jewish voters in New York and California. They’re focused on Jews in the crucial swing states.”

The challenge is that, in most cases, “There isn’t really a very big difference between how most Jews vote in different parts of the country,” he continues. “Most American Jews are liberal, most of them support the Democratic Party, and for most of them the top issues on the agenda are domestic political issues.”