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April 29, 2005

Still fighting over the Jewish vote

I haven't written about the Jewish vote in several months, after my two big posts in November, "A new benchmark for the Jewish vote?" and "The hidden Jewish vote." But I'm coming out of hibernation for a reason.

A couple of weeks ago, the Solomon Project issued a report, which it called a "white paper" (link in PDF), that went over the data from the 2004 election in an attempt to come up with more accurate figures on the Jewish vote. The Solomon Project report is a meta-analysis. As I understand that term, that means that the report analyzed other studies instead of seeking its own data. Thus, on page 3, the report states that "[t]he Solomon Project has reviewed data from the following pre-election polls, post-election polls and exit poll surveys" and lists 10 other polls and surveys. The report was careful to note the limitations in these polls and surveys, and I give it a lot of credit for that. It also made an effort to "re-weight" the data from the National Election Pool exit polls.

Its conclusion: The best estimate of the two-party Jewish vote was Kerry 78% and Bush 22%, which is slightly worse for Bush than the initial estimates last November, although it found respectable support for Bush among young Jewish men under age 30 (35%) and among those who attend synagogue at least weekly (47%).

To beef up its credibility, the report announced other important findings, like "Jewish Americans overwhelmingly identify themselves as liberal * * * or moderate on an ideological scale." (p. 1) Who knew?

I am not qualified to challenge the analysis of the data, but I do think there's reason to suspect ulterior motives here. The Solomon Project describes itself in this report as "non-partisan": "With this backdrop, the non-partisan Solomon Project has undertaken the most extensive review ever of the Election Day voting behavior of American Jews." (p. 3) Now, color me cynical, but when the research director of the organization for the past decade has been Ira Forman, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, and when two of the authors of the report are Mark Mellman, who is a Democratic pollster, and Anna Greenberg, who is associated with and other left-wing causes, I'm not entirely convinced of the non-partisan nature of the enterprise.

The issue, of course, is not whether a report is partisan but whether it is accurate and informative. The report appears to be more accurate than the initial reports following the election, but I think it ultimately does not tell us much that we don't already know. While the report has a rigorous feel to it, a report on voting ultimately can be no more rigorous than the data on which it's based. For this reason, I find nothing in it that makes me doubt my own analysis of the hidden Jewish vote. I freely admit I have no data of my own, much less a rigorous analysis. What I do have is a reason to suspect that the data produced by the professionals are suspect. I have evidence, purely anecdotal evidence but evidence nonetheless, that a respectable number of Jews voted for Bush and kept it a secret. No matter how many analyses and meta-analyses can be done on the polls and exit data, you will still be stuck with the same failing of those data. Secret Jewish voting for Bush will not be taken into account. You can read my post on the hidden Jewish vote here.

Now, if you've read my post, you'll know that my guess is about 5% more vote for Bush than the exit polls and other surveys indicate. Meaning upper 20s to 30%. Which raises the question why we should be quibbling about this at all, considering how lopsided the vote is under any count. I've made the suggestion in my post on a new benchmark for the Jewish vote that we should look the figure of 25% Republican vote, not 50%, as the basis of comparison. (Why? Read the post.)

Politically conservative Jews and philo-semitic Christians often wonder whether there is any hope for the Jewish vote. Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition is always upbeat, but that's his job. My own view is that we have to look at this as a matter of plate tectonics, only with a lower speed limit. I do see trends away from block Democratic voting, but very, very slow ones, even with the increase in numbers of Orthodox Jews. If the past election couldn't rouse us from our dogmatic slumber, probably little will. Our ancestors were forced to wander for 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised Land. But that was easy; this is hard.

UPDATE (5/3): David Boxenhorn at Rishon Rishon picks up on the report's finding (I assume he's referring to the same report) that 47% of Jews who attended synagogue at least weekly voted for Bush. Because he believes that the Jewish population will be increasingly observant in coming generations -- given the difference in birth rates of observant and non-observant Jews -- in about 100 years, by his estimation, the overwhelming majority of the still small Jewish American population will be observant. (And therefore, I assume, voting for George Bush's great grandchild.) Well, I suppose we're in basic agreement. For me it's plate tectonics; for him, it'll take a century until Jews get close to 50% Republican, and then only because non-observant Jews will disappear. Ah, yes, another optimist.