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June 17, 2016  RSS feed
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Jews will impact 2016 election – but in what way?

Jewish Press

After months of hard-fought primary battles and uncivil rhetoric, Americans finally got clarity earlier this month on which major party candidates will square off in the race for president.

Far less clear is how Jews will vote in the 2016 election, or in future ones, but whatever the role, it will have an oversized impact, said Dr. Steven Windmueller, a scholar and author who has spent years studying Jewish trends in politics.

Windmueller spoke at a forum at Congregation

Beth Shalom in Clearwater on June 8. His speech was put on by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, Tampa JCC & Federation, and sponsored by B’nai B’rith of Clearwater.

The Jewish impact on political life in the United States is nothing new. Since the beginning of our nation, Jews were here and involved, not only fighting in the American Revolution, but also helping finance it, Windmueller noted.

In this presidential election, Jews will once again help shape the outcome, he said, “because 85 percent of us vote. Voting is a Jewish responsibility … so American Jews are very politically engaged.”

Not only do Jews show up for elections, the percentage of money flowing from members of the Jewish community into Democratic and Republican political races is large – as much as 40 percent of all funds for Democrats and about 25 percent for Republicans.

“Only 2.4 percent of the U.S. population is Jewish, but 10 percent of the U.S. Senate is Jewish and three of the eight members of the Supreme Court are Jews,” Windmueller said.

Furthering the clout of the Jewish vote is the fact that most American Jews live in 10 states, including New York, Florida, Ohio and other key states with large electoral college voting numbers. That alone magnifies their influence over elections, he said

That might bode well for Democrats, Windmueller said, but not always, as Jews are not single-issue constituents and take sides on many issues important to them.

For the 2016 election, he said the top issues for Jews are control of the Supreme Court, Medicare and other healthcare issues, the quality of education, the climate, immigration and the security of Israel.

From election to election, Jews for years have voted in greater numbers for Democrats, but it is not a monolithic voting bloc and the percentage of the Jewish vote for Democratic and Republican presidential candidates varies from campaign to campaign.

Also, within the Orthodox community, ties to the Republican party are strong and as the Orthodox population grows, so will that clout, he said.

The other element not making it easy for Democrats to count on a large Jewish vote as in the past is the wild card of Millenials, he said. (Millenials are generally those who reached adulthood around the beginning of the 21st century) “Fifty-one percent of them are independents,” Windmueller said.

Hot issues for that generation include climate change and strong views on economic and social justice, he said, making many of them progressives. But he noted this may still not help predict how they vote.

One of the big factors is that there are extremely high negatives for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, so Millenials, as well as many others, may opt for neither and the Libertarian or Green Party candidates may benefit from that.

A common theme of the primaries this year has been the pitting of outsiders versus insiders, with many voters feeling on the outside, disconnected from the political process.

“This is a great moment to create a political revolution, but it also leads to expressions of anti- Semitism and racism and other acrimony,” he said.

Following Windmueller’s talk, the former Hebrew Union College of Los Angeles dean and author of several books on Jewish power, politics and religion, took questions from the audience of about 100 people.

One woman asked if, after this election season, civility will return to political discourse. Windmeuller did not hazard a guess, but noted “politics works when there are degrees of compromise and debate.”

He said he recently wrote a blog about hot topics among Jews:

• Is Trump a fascist? While not offering an opinion, Windmueller said, “What he has unleashed is permission for discourse outside the bounds of responsibility.”

• Will Sen. Bernie Sanders be a gracious loser to Clinton? Time will tell, he said.

• Why the influence on money in politics is growing stronger, not weaker. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision is continuing to increase the money in politics, Windmueller explained, noting that $3.5 billion was spent in the last congressional/presidential elections, and this year the total could reach $5 billion.

Members of the audience spoke of how dismaying it is that there is so much misinformation that is spread, especially online, but also on TV and in mainstream media.

Hana Cowart, who said she was one of those Millenials whose vote is hard to predict, noted that she is independent and is looking to make her decision based on a candidates’ positions on a variety of issues. She said the best way to combat misinformation “is to do your own fact-checking,” including checking out the reliability of the sources of information.

On the other hand, Bob Berman of St. Petersburg said for him there is one overriding issue this year, and that is who gets to nominate the next member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because of the insider versus outsider element of the race this year and the issues raised during the primaries about rules favoring the establishment candidates, Windmueller said it would not surprise him if there was reform in both parties once this election season ends.

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