The thinking typically goes like this: Support the candidate you love, and the votes will follow.
But these are not normal times, and Democrats, along with many independents and moderate Republicans participating in the Jewish Political Voices Project (JPVP), are increasingly making calculations about who to support based on a candidate’s perceived likelihood of beating President Donald Trump. While many remain undecided, most are viewing the candidates through a lens of pragmatism rather than passion.
This thinking came into play recently as some of our voters reconsidered their support of Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the most left-leaning candidates in the race. In interviews with JPVP participants early last fall, 10 of the 30 voters selected Warren as their top choice—more than any other Democrat.
But in our most recent survey, we saw a notable shift when we asked which Democratic candidates our voters felt would give Trump the best chance for re-election. Warren received the most votes (13), with several expressing concern that she would be maligned as a “socialist” and that people would be scared away by her proposals for structural economic change, including her Medicare for all plan. Similar concerns were expressed about Senator Bernie Sanders, with the second most voters (10) saying Trump is more likely to win re-election if he is the Democratic nominee.
North Carolina voter Svi Shapiro voiced a common sentiment in explaining his hesitancy about both candidates: “My heart is really with the left of the Democratic Party, with candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who speak to the kind of policies I care about. But my head tells me that we have to look for a person who can beat Trump. So, I’m not averse to going with one of those candidates who is considered more moderate.”
On the flip side, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg received the most votes in answer to the question: “Which Democratic candidate(s) do you think will give Trump the greatest challenge for re-election?” His nine votes were followed by seven for former Vice President Joe Biden, five of Senator Cory Booker and four for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Warren and Sanders received just three votes each.
Both Democrats and Republicans said they viewed Buttigieg as an especially strong challenger to Trump. Michael Ginsberg, a Republican from Virginia who is leaning toward voting for Trump, said Buttigieg poses a threat because he “papers over his liberal views using his Midwestern roots and calm demeanor.” Rabbi Felipe Goodman, a Nevada Democrat, said the young mayor has “demonstrated that his age is an asset and not a liability.” And he praised his “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan as a smart alternative to Medicare for all, which he worries will “bankrupt our country.”
The entry into the race of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg generated extreme reactions from both sides of the political divide. Several Democrats said they did not welcome entry into the race of “another billionaire,” while some of the Republican voters felt Bloomberg could pose potentially the greatest threat to Trump.
“The economy will be the defining issue and Bloomberg has the opportunity to pick-off more Republicans and independents than other candidates. Also, he will have virtually unlimited resources,” said Mark Goldhaber, a North Carolina Republican who voted for the libertarian candidate in 2016 and is undecided about who to support in the 2020 race. Similarly, Pennsylvania Republican Lou Weiss, who is not a Trump backer, believes Bloomberg, with his business background and deep pockets, is the ideal candidate to take on Trump. “I hope that I have the chance to pull the lever for Bloomberg in 2020,” said Weiss.