What can 30 politically engaged Jewish voters tell us about the current state of our national political discourse and next year’s presidential election? Plenty, as it turns out.
This fall, a team of Moment reporters began interviewing and getting to know two Democrats and one Republican in each of 10 battleground states. All were eager to share their thoughts and opinions about the issues they care about, the presidential candidates, the Trump administration and how Judaism affects their politics.
In the coming months we will provide regular updates on the evolving views of each of our voters as we make our way through the presidential debates, impeachment hearings, primaries and finally the general election. Some distinct patterns have started to emerge, many consistent with national polling data and trends, but with a few twists. Jewish voters, we are finding, are as varied and complicated in their beliefs and perceptions of the political landscape as the rest of America.
Here’s what we’re seeing so far:
Democrats and Republicans have starkly different policy priorities. Health care was a top-three choice for 14 of our 20 Democratic voters but just two of our 10 Republican voters. The other top issues for the Democrats were, in order of preference: climate change, women’s rights/reproductive rights, gun control and criminal/social justice (tied), economic inequality and education. A strong economy and support for Israel were among the top choices of just one Democrat each. By contrast, a strong economy was named a top-three issue by six of the 10 Republicans, followed by support for Israel, a strong defense, immigration and secure borders, countering socialism, and fighting anti-Semitism.
Our interviews confirmed that Israel is a huge driver for Trump supporters and Republicans in general. This is much less the case for the Democrats, many of whom expressed antipathy for the Trump administration’s policies in Israel, Netanyahu’s government and treatment of the Palestinians.
Views on the candidates are evolving, but we can identify a few notable trends. Among all 30 voters, Senator Elizabeth Warren had the most support, with 10 Democrats choosing her as one of their top three choices, followed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg (seven supporters), and former Vice President Joe Biden (six supporters). But just behind them was Senator Amy Klobuchar with five supporters, including two Republicans, one of whom said she is his current top choice for the general election. Sen. Kamala Harris was a top-three choice of five Democrats.
The rise of moderates such as Buttigieg and Klobuchar, particularly following strong performances in last month’s debate, tracks some of the national polling, although support for Klobuchar among our group of Jewish voters is stronger than it appears to be in the larger electorate. Among non-Trump Republicans, Klobuchar and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Yang, appear to have real appeal.
Negative views of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are strong. While support for Warren was the highest of any candidate, negative views of her and, to an even greater extent, Senator Bernie Sanders, were also strong. Three moderate Democrats said they could not vote for either candidate and two Democratic voters singled out Sanders as especially unappealing. Some lumped both progressive candidates together, describing them with words like “too radical.” A few expressed the view that they didn’t find Warren “likeable.” Several Warren supporters said they had heard friends and family make similar statements, noting that such views echoed sentiments expressed about Hillary Clinton during her presidential run. Some feared that these attitudes suggest that men in particular would not vote for Warren in a general election.
News sources vary dramatically depending on political party, especially between Trump supporters and Democrats. The voters we surveyed exist in completely different news universes, filtered through outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, CNN and MSNBC on the Democratic side and Fox News, Breitbart and conservative radio on the Republican side. The result is that each side is forming opinions and making decisions based on a completely different set of “facts,” some of which are best described as conspiracy theories or outright lies. Notably, several of the more liberal Democrats said they monitor Fox News to see what “the other side” is thinking.
Judaism factors into the political beliefs of both Democrats and Republicans but with a different emphasis. The Democrats who said their religion affected their political views mostly talked about Jewish values such as tikkun olam and the importance of giving back and welcoming the stranger, particularly in the context of the current immigration debate. Some Republicans expressed those feelings as well but focused on growing anti-Semitism as their primary concern as it relates to their religion.
Political conflict between family and friends has become more intense, especially for Republicans who support Trump. One Trump supporter described a political “civil war” among her friends and another said several friends have set up “secret” Facebook accounts so they can more freely express their conservative views. Democrats said they have developed strained relationships with Republican family members and friends. And at least four in our group are gingerly navigating mixed marriages where one spouse is a Democrat and one is a Republican.
Impeachment has the near universal support of our Democratic voters, many of whom were on the fence before the Ukraine revelations. The Republicans who don’t support Trump, either oppose impeachment or are waiting for more information before making a decision. Not surprisingly, Trump supporters strongly oppose the impeachment proceedings and characterize them as a “witch-hunt,” echoing the words of the president and his allies.
Stay tuned for monthly updates as we continue to track the views of our 30 voters and provide analysis of key trends leading up to the November 2020 presidential election.