The impact of Orthodox Jews on the US presidential election

The Orthodox may make up a mere 10 percent of the American-Jewish population, but for key states, the number is misleading.

Jewish men wearing kipahs. Credit: David Berkowitz via Wikimedia Commons.
Jewish men wearing kipahs. Credit: David Berkowitz via Wikimedia Commons.
Joseph Frager
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.

To borrow a phrase from the great Yogi Berra, the upcoming U.S. presidential election is beginning to feel like “déjà vu all over again.”

In 2016, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was down by more than 5 percentage points in many national polls but managed to pull out a stunning electoral college victory by winning in battleground states.

As I wrote in 2015, in a piece titled “Have Polls Lost It?”: A poll has become the opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I provided many examples, including a Gallup poll according to which then-Republican candidate Mitt Romney would beat incumbent Democrat Barack Obama 50 percent to 49 percent in 2012. Obama beat Romney 51 percent to 47 percent.

Currently, Democratic candidate Joe Biden is ahead of Trump in various polls of key battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. CNN has Biden leading Trump 50 percent to 46 percent in Florida. USA Today has Biden leading 49 percent to 42 percent in Pennsylvania. A Hill/Harris poll has Biden leading 54 percent to 43 percent in Michigan. Real Clear Politics has Biden leading 49.7 percent to 43.5 percent in Wisconsin. Fox News polls are similar, except that they show a 3 percent lead by Trump in Ohio.

In 2016, with two weeks to go before the election, the numbers were not that much different from those of today for these key battleground states. For example, Real Clear Politics had Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton besting Trump in Florida 47 percent to 44.6 percent; in Pennsylvania, 47.2 percent to 42 percent; in Michigan, 47.5 percent to 37.5 percent; and in Wisconsin, 45.3 percent to 39.3 percent.

Although so much is different about this election from that of 2016—Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton; the coronavirus has killed more than 200,000 Americans; the “cancel culture” wars have begun in earnest; and the American people have had a chance to experience Trump as president for four years—they are not that much different.

Indeed, as much as things have changed, so much remains the same. And 56 percent of Americans say that they are better off today than they were in 2016.

As a rule, incumbents win a second term. There have been only 10 presidents since 1789 who did not: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland (though he lost, he won a second term eventually, as he served as both the 22nd and 24th president), Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.

Interestingly, the president to whom Trump is most frequently compared–Andrew Jackson—won a second term. Jackson won because of a fervently devoted and strong base of support. Trump has a similarly devoted and energized base.

Among Trump’s most ardent supporters are Orthodox Jew. It is estimated that in 2016 he received approximately 25 percent of the overall Jewish vote, the vast majority of which came from the Orthodox community.

According to a recent Pew survey, he will receive 27 percent of the Jewish vote this time around. Ami Magazine recently predicted that 83 percent of Orthodox Jews will be voting for him.

Given the closeness of the race in key battleground states, every Orthodox vote becomes that much more significant for him. (See my 2017 article, “The Orthodox Have Come of Age.”)

Since, in 2016, he only won by 112,911 votes in Florida and only 44,241 in Pennsylvania, there is no doubt that the Orthodox vote was helpful, that the Orthodox voting bloc can indeed sway an election. This is even more evident in Michigan, where he only won by 10,700 votes, and in Wisconsin, where he only won by 22,748 votes.
Although the Pew study of 2013 indicated that the Orthodox make up a mere 10 percent of the American-Jewish population, this can be very misleading, because the Orthodox community in a state like Florida is closer to 20 percent of the Jewish population there, which is 657,095.

This means that more than 100,000 votes in Florida will be cast for Trump from the Orthodox community alone, which could tip the scales in his favor. The same goes for Pennsylvania, which has a Jewish population of 434,165. Even assuming that only 10 percent of that state’s Jews are Orthodox, it would still translate into more than 35,000 votes. Meanwhile, Michigan has a Jewish population of 87,905 and Wisconsin of 33,455. Again, the Orthodox could make the difference between victory and defeat for the president in these states.

It is clear that Orthodox Jews will have a profound effect on the outcome of the election on Nov. 3.

Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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