Sheldon Adelson’s Jewish vote effort, and what it means
Billionaire GOP super PAC benefactor Sheldon Adelson is everywhere in the presidential race this year. His latest effort: Targeting Jewish voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The New York Times reports today that Adelson and other members of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board of directors have committed $6.5 million to an effort to turn the heavily Democratic voter bloc more Republican in 2012.
But even if the effort is hugely successful, Mitt Romney is only likely to reap small gains.
Here’s more from the Times:
The group, the Republican Jewish Coalition, plans to begin a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in the coming weeks called “My Buyer’s Remorse,” targeting voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, aides said. The campaign uses testimonials from people who say they regret supporting Mr. Obama because of his economic policies and his posture toward Israel, in hopes of cutting into the wide advantage Democrats have held over Republicans among Jewish voters.
It is the latest foray into the election by Mr. Adelson, a staunch supporter of Israel who has vowed to spend as much as $100 million to defeat Mr. Obama. It marks an escalation of the partisan politics over Middle East policy and represents an emerging Republican strategy of highlighting voters who supported Mr. Obama four years ago but are now expressing disappointment, while signaling to others that they are not alone in shifting their allegiances.
There is certainly a fair argument to be made that Jewish voters are gettable for Republicans. The special election in former congressman Anthony Weiner’s (D) New York City district last year, in which the GOP stole the most heavily Jewish district in the country, is Case Study No. 1.
But even if the Jewish vote swings big for Romney, it seems very unlikely it will make a big difference in the election. That’s because, unlike in Weiner’s district, the Jewish population is a very small minority elsewhere in the country — even in Florida.
According to the Jewish Data Bank, Jewish people comprise just 3.3 percent of Florida’s population, 2.3 percent of Pennsylvania’s and 1.3 percent of Ohio’s. Jewish voters turn out at very high levels, but even in a state like Florida, exit polls in 2008 pegged them at just 4 percent of the electorate.
Obama won the Jewish vote nationwide 78 percent to 21 percent four years ago. If you’re Romney and the RJC, and you’re real optimistic, let’s say you can narrow the gap to 67 percent to 33 percent.
Transfer those gains to Florida, and you’ve gained only half of 1 percent overall. Yes, that could make a difference in a very close race, but this is a voter bloc that hasn’t gone more than 24 percent for the GOP’s presidential candidate since the 1980s, so 33 percent is a very tall order.
(What’s more, we postulated after the Weiner special election last year that the race said less about the Jewish vote than about Obama’s broader problems. Much as with the Latino community, rising disapproval of the president among Jewish voters hasn’t really translated into a shift toward Republicans in head-to-head polling.)
The Jewish community is very active in politics and includes many of the biggest donors and activists in presidential politics; it’s important. But donors and activists like Adelson have already picked sides, and the Jewish vote itself is still a very small part of the American electorate.
Adelson is going to have an impact on the 2012 race (and already has), but this effort is most likely a blip on the radar screen.