Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session Congress is ruffling feathers in Washington and upsetting Democrats, but don’t expect it to have a dramatic effect on the Jewish American vote or 2016.
There are two big truths about the Jewish vote in the United States: It is solidly Democratic. And it is primarily based in states where the election’s outcome is not likely to be in doubt.
In the four presidential elections since 2000, the Jewish American vote has outperformed the national electorate consistently in its support of Democrats by a wide margin. Jewish support for President Barack Obama dipped just below 70 percent in 2012 (it came in at 69 percent) but the support level was still 18 percentage points better than Mr. Obama did with the population at large.
The number was not remarkably different from the numbers from the three elections that preceded it as you can see on this chart – and, remember, 2012 was a fairly close race.
To put that 69 percent number in perspective, it is not far from the 71 percent of the Hispanic vote Mr. Obama won in 2012.
Regardless of the past, what if the number suddenly did shift in 2016, and the Democratic candidate won by a much smaller margin or even lost the Jewish vote? The net impact would not likely be large because of the way the Jewish vote is clustered.
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There are about 6.5 million Jewish-Americans in the United States according to the U.S. Census. But 2.8 million of them live in just two states – New York (1.6 million) and California (1.2 million). You can see a map of the population by state here.
Those states aren’t just reliably Democratic, they are nearly impossible territory for Republicans. Mr. Obama won them by a combined 5 million votes in 2012.
The Jewish vote could matter in them, but that would only be in a case where the other big parts of the Democratic coalition (Hispanics, young people) have swung Republican or at least have swung to be “in play.”
There are a few states where a swing in the Jewish vote could have an impact.
Pennsylvania, which holds about 295,000 Jewish-Americans, was much closer in 2012. Mr. Obama only won the state by about 309,000 votes.
And Jewish voters could play an even bigger role in Florida, which is home to about 613,000 Jewish Americans. Mr. Obama won the Sunshine State by only 74,000 votes. A swing of a few thousand Jewish votes could make a big difference – though, considering how the state is always close, the swing of a few thousand votes by any group could make a big difference there.
The bigger question out of all these numbers, however, may be what makes the Jewish vote so reliably Democratic? There are any number of answers to the question, of course – from Democratic social policies to the Republican Party’s strong affiliation with Evangelical Christians. But one other point to keep in mind – far away from foreign policy and speeches to joint sessions of congress – is urbanicity.
Jewish populations are heavily clustered in the big cities and suburbs and those places lean heavily Democratic, as the American Communities Project at American University has noted. More than two-thirds of the U.S Jewish population lives in just 40 counties, according to data from the Berman Jewish Data Bank – 37 of those 40 counties voted for Mr. Obama in 2012.
Included in those counties: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Atlanta.
The Jewish population has not spread out of those places to more Exurban or rural locales. It is, at its core, an urban population, focused on big city, urban problems. And urban populations are solidly Democratic.
In other words, the numbers don’t suggest any big shift in the Jewish vote is coming soon.