Religion and the US Elections: The Jewish and Muslim Vote. (And a brief note on the Mormon Vote).

Four years ago, I gave a talk about Muslims and Jews, and the ramifications of their voting patterns for Democrats and Republicans. I spoke at what was, I believe, the ill-fated but valuable entity already called CCCE (and once called Community Education). And I continue to include charting trends in these communities in my professional purview.

 

I did not really have any reason to cover the Mormon vote in 2008.

 

George W. Bush had courted the Muslim vote, and in 2000 and 2004, the Muslim community took this into account (as they did, especially after the attack on the World Trade Center and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, US policies towards the Islamic world). In 2008, the Muslim vote  for the Democratic party reflected reactions to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and recognition of Obama’s personal history—Obama spent time growing up in Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country, and his grandfather was a Muslim, for at least part of his life. It’s noteworthy that the latter fact was more important than considering the candidate’s grandfather, father or indeed himself as an apostate—and I do not think many American voters who are Muslims hold the misguided notion that Obama is himself Muslim, despite the startling percentage of Americans (in some surveys, over 10%) who treat this claim seriously.

 

I am writing this in part because my attention was drawn to one of the most important and fundamental surveys of religion and voting, the report of the Pew Memorial Trust. Although the way the Pew survey was done, there was little likelihood they would get sufficient data to make projections about Muslim, Jewish and Mormon voters, and they focused on the changing role of religion in the US electorate, but mostly white, African-American, and Hispanics who identify as Christians of various types, or as “nones”–persons with no religious affiliation. But, it is certainly possible to look into the Muslim, Jewish and Mormon communities and discuss the trends and their significance.

 

It’s not clear how important these votes will be, but it is noteworthy that while Muslims and Jews are a small portion of the electorate, they are reasonably well represented in enough “swing states” that they could easily claim significance in winning the election. Muslims are certainly a large enough percentage of voters to make an electoral difference in the swing state of Virginia. Other swing states such as Florida, Colorado and Ohio have enough Muslims that their vote could be said to make a difference if they tended towards one party or another and the results were close. Mormons are probably enough of a force in Nevada, possibly in Colorado. The Jewish vote could be decisive in Florida and Nevada, and probably in Ohio and Colorado.

 

Pew’s charting of ethnic/racial distinctions are clearly important, as are the “religiosity” items such attendance at religious services and other practices.  Indeed, these kinds of things show up as important distinctions in many studies of Jewish and Muslim communities.

 

I have not seen much material about Muslim choices in the current race, although some are nervous about Romney’s strong language regarding Iran, Libya, Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East. I need to track this more carefully.

 

Jewish Republicans are far more vocal than ever before, although it is hard to determine if the percentage is highly distinct from the usual 25%. Jews who attend the synagogue multiple times per week (not per month!) tend to track more highly for Romney—generally this correlates with certain segments of the Orthodox and especially Ultra-Orthodox communities. The AJC (American Jewish Committee) did a survey on Sept. 27 that projected 65% for Obama and 24% for Romney. Undecideds were asked for their preferences as of the date—and apparently most were able to say they were leaning one way or another; rounding these numbers and adding them in it’s about 71% for Obama and 27% for Romney. (Disclosure: I made up these last numbers: the report I saw did not do this addition).

 

The most striking differential is that Orthodox Jews, usually considered about 10% of the overall Jewish population (in this sample the percentage was 8.3%, favored Romney over Obama 54% to 40%, while the other categories are pretty close to the overall average. The gender gap is present among Jewish respondents 69/19% women vs. 61/29% men. The survey asked whether respondents approved of the way Obama is handling various issues; the most striking approval rates to me were to the question about whether he was handling the abortion issue well. Clearly National Security, Israel and Iran are important issues for these voters. In some cases, the level of support or approval for Obama differed from the overall level of his support.

 

Muslims largely supported Clinton, but also George Bush and George W Bush. They voted for Obama in large numbers in 2008. This time around, there appears to be disappointment with Obama: at home, there is still profiling and some of the provisions of the PATRIOT act that the Muslim community dislikes were renewed; overseas, many are dissatisfied by the nature of US involvement in Muslim countries, drone attacks, and so forth. I do not think there is a great amount of sympathy for Romney, though, so it is not surprising to me that the necessity to vote emerges more than support of (or opposition to) one or the other candidate–in my very unscientific survey of website statements about this issue. 

 

Mormons typically support the Republican party, and this year support for Romney, a Mormon, exceeds the level of Mormon support for the ticket in 2008.

 

Is there any significance to this all?

 

In terms of who is elected—the Mormon, Jewish and Muslim voting blocks could be influential in a few states, such as Virginia, Florida, Ohio,  Colorado and Nevada. Given the closeness of the election, any of these states could be viewed as the deciding state.

 

Many perceive a widening gulf between Republicans and Democrats in general in the United States, and this is mirrored in the gulf between the politics of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jews tend also to be more conservative on a number of social issues. Israel and various other foreign policy issues remain of broad interest to the Jewish electorate; although Republican policies towards Israel seem in my humble opinion to reflect the kinds of approaches more closely associated with Christian Zionism and Neoconservatives (and Jewish neo-cons are not primarily Orthodox), these approaches resonate well in the Orthodox Jewish community. It should be noted that Jewish republicans are by no means overwhelmingly Orthodox—the percentage of the Orthodox community supporting the Republicans is much higher than it is among Conservative, Reform, and other affiliated or non-affiliated Jews, but the Orthodox form a small percentage of the overall community.

 

Looking over several surveys, it seems that the greatest issue in the Muslim community today is getting out the vote. Many Muslims find both major parties to have problematic and attractive aspects when compared to their opponents, and American Muslims do not seem to have the history of supporting the one or the other party, as is typical of Jews and Mormons.

 

Mormons typically support Republican candidates, and have a substantial infrastructure to support voting. It seems to me that Mormons mobilizing the vote could have a substantial impact in Nevada, and a smaller yet not insignificant impact in Colorado.

 

To the extent that I can determine from reviewing surveys and reportage, Jews still support the Democratic Party much more often than the Republican Party. But, Jews appear to resemble the general American community more and more in terms of how religiosity and similar considerations affect their voting preferences; a detailed statistical analysis might show that, when allowances are made for some of these concerns, Jewish demography—largely urban, less religious etc.—is such that when held constant for some of these considerations, Jewish voting preferences are even less distinct from the general electorate. Even on Israel, Jews may appear to interpret candidates’ positions in such a way that they match their party loyalties.

 

Any change in the Mormon voting orientation is less likely to come to the fore in the current election. And Muslims appear to be investing energy in getting more involved in the political process.

 

Seth Ward

 

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