Midterm elections are just five days away. For Jewish and non-Jewish voters alike, it’s hard to think of a non-presidential election in recent history that has more riding on it. Will voters, many of them women, turn the election into a referendum on abortion rights? Or on the GOP’s continued embrace of former President Donald Trump’s election denial? Or will the 2022 contests adhere to a more traditional pattern: a judgment on the current president (and the party in power on Capitol Hill)?
Jews make up just 2.4 percent of the U.S. population, but their political involvement is robust; they vote at rates of 80 to 85 percent. (By contrast, the national average for 2020 was between 65 and 68 percent.) In a neck-and-neck election year where a few votes can make a large difference, the Jewish vote could prove significant—especially in battleground states with significant Jewish populations such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Georgia.
For the most part, Jewish voters have been a component of the historic Democratic coalition dating back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But poll research shows more and more Jews leaning Republican for over a decade. A Pew Research Center report last year found 75 percent of Orthodox Jews identify as Republican.
To explore what’s on the minds of a variety of Jewish voters, Moment this fall revived its Jewish Political Voices Project. In 2020, JPVP followed 30 Jewish voters through the primaries up to Election Day, interviewing them every month. The results proved prophetic in many ways, giving readers a way to tap into many of the question marks surrounding Trump as he was running for re-election. It also chronicled the musical-chairs winnowing of Democrats that resulted in the nomination (and election) of President Joe Biden.
This time, Moment consulted ten veterans of JPVP 2020—five Democrats and five Republicans. Their views represent a broad cross section of Jewish political opinion today. But whatever place they occupy on the spectrum, they all had a fair share of soul-searching to do. The interior monologue: Do I vote for a Republican who drinks Trump Kool-Aid? Or do I vote for a tax-and-spend Democrat even though eggs are as high as $4 a dozen? Growing antisemitism is another concern.
With less than a week to go, polling and punditry suggest voters in general are more concerned about post-Covid-era inflation and crime than anything else. They are looking to Republicans to right the ship with promises of reduced spending, lower taxes and stiffer law enforcement. For their part, Democrats are relying on indignation over the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, combined with January 6 Committee revelations of Trump’s deeper-than-known involvement in the U.S. Capitol insurrection of January 6, 2021, to secure votes. Democrats also are playing on Republican hints that they’d cut back on Social Security and Medicare. And they hope that Biden’s legislative accomplishments—infrastructure, climate change, tech manufacturing jobs and lower Medicare drug prices among them—haven’t been forgotten.
Biden’s approval rating shot up after those legislative victories but has now settled in the 42-percent range. Previous presidents with comparable approval levels—Reagan, Clinton, Obama and Trump—all suffered major midterm losses. While continuing Democratic control of the House is, and has always been, a stretch, the Senate could be in play. Democrats are bucking the headwinds in key states against GOP candidates blessed by Trump. Among the states with key Senate contests: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Ohio and Arizona.
No matter the analyses and predictions, control of Congress—and the political momentum going into 2024—is very much up for grabs. Our advice: Follow RBG’s dictum, then stock up on popcorn and prepare for a long night on Nov. 8.