Jews, Party Identification, and Political Realignment

If you’re a conservative among liberal Jews, you find that Jewish liberals will view you as being in dire need of confinement to a reeducation camp. Everyone they know thinks as they do. Obviously, there must be something wrong with you. Their attitudes are reminiscent of Pauline Kael in her expression of shock over Richard Nixon’s presidential victory in 1972. An incredulous Kael asked how Nixon could have won when no one she knew voted for him.

Yet, beneath the surface, there has been for years a growing disenchantment among Jews with the political left. And Barack Obama’s anti-Israel policies have fueled that growth.

The 9% movement among Jews into the Republican camp means far and away more than what can be assessed by that number. It means the beginning of a critical mass so that liberal Jews will no longer be free to mouth political banalities, leftist clichés, and Democratic talking points without challenge. They will no longer be able to rely on social pressure to both stifle dissent and to promote political conformity among the vast majority of people whose political interests invariably align with what is socially palatable. They will no longer be able to be arrogant in their ignorance, because their ignorance will no longer be socially shared.

The 9% means a shifting dynamic in terms of the political dialogue within the Jewish community. That means the gathering of a force willing to challenge the leftist groupthink of Jewish communal organizations.

It is important to understand that Jews, like African Americans, were not always Democrats. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party was associated with Southern secessionism, nativism, agrarian populism, and a debased currency. The Republican Party was the party of the urban and industrial North. Then came the candidacy of Al Smith, an urban Catholic, and the realigning election of 1928, which ended the Republican hold on the Northern urban and immigrant population. This was reinforced by the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, which solidified the new immigrant and ethno-religious coalition that made the Democrats invincible until the election of the victorious general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952.

But Eisenhower’s candidacy changed voting preferences, not the psychological dynamic of party identification. With Eisenhower off the ballot, the ethno-religious coalition that Roosevelt created returned to the Democratic fold, inflating pundits’ appraisals of Kennedy’s impact on the Catholic vote. Kennedy did get a boost from Catholics but not as much as one might have thought by simply comparing Kennedy’s numbers, among Catholics, to Eisenhower’s. Catholics had defected to Eisenhower, but were still psychologically Democrats and absent Eisenhower, they were returning to their Democratic attachment. Eisenhower received Catholic votes, not Catholic party identification.

This is why the 9% figure among Jews is so important, for it speaks to party identification, not to ephemeral voting preference. It shows that Barack Obama has achieved the near impossible. He has created a psychological transformation among Jews, who will now increasingly identify -- not just vote -- as Republicans. And Obama is creating a similar phenomenon in the Catholic community, but that of course is another story.

The presidential election of 2012 might be the beginnings of a realignment of party identification. If so, Barack Obama will go down in history as the man who unraveled Franklin Roosevelt’s ethno-religious coalition.