Viewed from foreign shores, the impact of the Jewish vote on U.S. politics seems an anomaly. Of every 100 Americans, only two are Jews.
Yet Republican and Democratic strategists have made Jewish voters a primary target of their presidential campaign. The reason is clear. The Jewish vote can decide an election.
In fact, the battle for the Jewish vote has grown more intense than ever, as the demographics and voting patterns of the Jewish population have veered away from a once-monolithic pro-Democratic posture.
In recent years, studies have shown that of the some 4 million Jewish voters, around 60 percent are dedicated Democrats, and about 15 percent committed Republicans. Most importantly for campaign strategists, the remainder, roughly one Jewish voter in four, is a swing vote. Across the nation, a million swing voters, most of them concentrated in states with large numbers of electoral votes, can easily spell an invitation to an inaugural ball come January.
In the current campaign, the major parties have targeted seven key battleground states whose Jewish populations, while relatively small in number and percentage, could bring candidates crucial electoral votes in a close contest.
Here are the states, and why they made the list.
27 electoral votes. Current leaning: McCain
[All figures, Zogby polls of the electorate at large, updated 22 Aug.]:
McCain - 43%Obama - 40%Barr - 5%Nader - 1%Not Sure/Other - 11%
Jewish population: 650,000 of 18 million total.
Jews constitute some 3.7% of the population, but their concentration in south Florida can have critical importance.
The 2000 presidential contest went undecided for a month while Gore and Bush forces battled over election irregularities in Florida. When all other states had been tallied, Gore had 267 electoral votes, just three shy of the 270 needed for election, to Bush's 246.
In the end, of the nearly 6 million Florida ballots cast, Bush officially won the state by 537 ballots. This gave Bush the states 25 electoral votes and, with a single electoral vote over the 270 needed for victory, the White House.
Exit polls have shown that Bush, who took only 12 percent of the state's Jewish vote in 2000, won 20 percent in 2004. Democratic strategists, including National Jewish Democratic Council head Ira Forman, have voiced fears that Obama could fall far short of John Kerry's near 80 percent showing in Florida in 2004.
"If Obama loses 20 points off of Kerry from the Florida Jewish population, he gets 57% nationwide, and in Florida it's roughly 170,000 votes based on my estimates. Those are serious numbers," Forman told the New York Sun in May, adding that he expected the Obama campaign would make up the difference by November.
A McCain asset in Florida is GOP Governor Charlie Crist, who has proven very popular with Florida Jews.
Other key states, to be covered in detail in coming installments:
21 Electoral Votes. Current leaning: Obama
Obama - 46%McCain - 37%Barr - 5%Nader - 3%Not Sure/Other - 9%
Jewish population: 285,000 of 12 million.
20 Electoral Votes. Current leaning: Toss-up.
Obama - 41%McCain - 36%Barr - 8%Nader - 1%Not Sure/Other - 13%
Jewish population: 140,000 of 11 million.
17 Electoral Votes. Current leaning: Obama
Obama - 46%McCain - 37%Barr - 5%Nader - 1%Not Sure/Other - 12%
Jewish population: 90,000 of 10 million.
13 Electoral Votes. Current leaning: Toss-up.
Obama - 43%McCain - 41%Barr - 5%Nader - 1%Not Sure/Other - 10%
Jewish population: 100,000 of 7.6 million.
9 Electoral Votes. Current leaning: Too close to call.
Obama - 44%McCain - 38%Barr - 8%Nader - 2%Not Sure/Other - 8%
Jewish population: 80,000 of 4.7 million.
5 Electoral Votes. Current leaning: Deadlock.
Obama - 39%McCain - 38%Barr - 10%Nader - 3%Not Sure/Other - 10%
Jewish population: 70,000 of 2.4 million.
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