The foundation of the new Republican majority was the staunchly conservative Evangelical movement, and its positions on issues like church-state separation, abortion, gay rights, civil liberties and other domestic topics important to the Jewish community overshadowed its enthusiasm for Israel. After years of resistance, Republicans began voting for foreign aid, the pro-Israel community's number one legislative agenda, in large numbers.
It was at about that time that Israel peaked as the most important issue for Jewish voters. If Jews ever were single-issue voters, that was clearly changing in the 1990s. The reason wasn't a lack of interest but a feeling that both parties were good in their support for Israel, which allowed Jewish voters to focus more on other issues. That was bad news for Republicans, who were banking on outspoken support for Israel would overshadow Jewish concerns on their domestic agenda.
By 2008, only 3 per cent of Jewish voters felt Israel was the issue they'd most like to hear candidates discuss, according to an American Jewish Committee survey. In another poll, Israel tied for seventh place with illegal immigration on a list of issues important to Jewish voters.
Jewish votes are not attracted by defending torture and waterboarding, opposing gay marriage, banning abortion, cutting taxes for the wealthiest, trying to privatize Social Security and cutting Medicare, blocking universal health insurance and being identified, in the words of Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME), as "the party of big business, big oil and the rich."
WHAT CAN the GOP do about its Jewish problem? I asked a number of activists of various persuasions, and the most frequent answer I got was hope that the anger on the right toward Barack Obama's Mideast policies will spread across the Jewish community and finally give them a bigger chunk of the Jewish vote in 2012. Hoping the opposition fails is not a formula for success.
The Republicans are doing much better when it comes to Jewish money; indeed, some party pragmatists say Jewish campaign dollars, not votes, are what GOP leaders are really after. Jews are disproportionately large contributors to both parties, especially among a number of very large Republican givers, a party operative said. There are fewer Jewish GOP donors, but the size of their donations is larger, he said.
.... so long as the Evangelicals and social conservatives set the Republican agenda, Jews will keep voting overwhelmingly Democratic.
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