Although recent studies have found potential for some movement toward the Republican Party, analysts say any revolution in the US Jewish vote won't occur anytime soon.
"I would be very surprised to find that this is the transformative election," said Jonathan Sarna, an expert in American Jewish history at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
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Surveys confirm that growth in socially conservative Orthodox Jewish communities, who tend to be Republican voters, is greater than in Jewish groups from other traditions. Russian-speaking Jews are also emerging as a strong Republican constituency, as evidenced when Republican Bob Turner won the special election to succeed disgraced New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner.
But a generous estimate of the two groups combined would make them only a quarter of American Jews, with many living in heavily Democratic New York. Steven M. Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University's Wagner School, predicts "status quo ante" – the way things were before – for a decade or more, at least until the many Orthodox children reach voting age.
The enduring liberalism of Jewish voters has confounded Jewish conservatives, who tend to view support for Democrats as a youthful habit Jews should have outgrown long ago. In the 1970s and 1980s, when US Jews were becoming more assimilated and wealthier, expectations rose that they would follow the pattern of other ethnic groups and start voting Republican.
It didn't happen. President Barack Obama won 78% of the Jewish vote in 2008, according to exit polls. The only Democrat who failed to win a majority of Jewish voters in recent decades was President Jimmy Carter, in a three-way race in 1980 with Republican Ronald Reagan and independent John Anderson.
This year, Republicans saw a new opening. Surveys found a softening of support for Obama among Jews, as his favorability also dipped with the American public over the economy and other issues. Polls have the president down anywhere from a few to 10 percentage points among Jewish voters compared with four years ago.
Economy is Jewish voters' top concern
The Republican Jewish Coalition has been hammering away at Obama with ad campaigns such as "My Buyer's Remorse" and a video, "Perilous Times," on Israeli security under the president. The focus has been on Obama's frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and critics' claims that Obama is doing too little to stop Iran's nuclear program.
While American Jews make up only 2% of the US electorate, they register and vote at a much higher rate than the general public. In Florida, the prize battleground, about 3.4% of state residents are Jewish.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, noted that since 1992, the percentage of Jews voting Republican increased in every presidential election except for 2008.
"Republicans have been making inroads and gaining market share," Brooks said.
However, Ira Sheskin, a University of Miami professor and director of the Jewish Demography Project, said Republicans aren't on the way to overtaking the Jewish vote. Sheskin argued that Jewish votes for Republicans are recovering from a low of 11% for President George H.W. Bush, whose policies toward Israel had upset many Jews.
Overseas, many Jewish communities are, in fact, becoming more politically conservative. In Canada, Australia and Britain, Jews have shifted to the right in the face of liberal party stands against Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories. By contrast, in the United States, major-party candidates compete for the mantle of better friend to Israel.
In a survey conducted last month for the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy and humanitarian organization, Jewish voters listed the economy, health care and national security as their top concerns. Nancy Kaufman, chief executive of the liberal National Council of Jewish Women, said her group was organizing in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and elsewhere on issues such as supporting gay marriage, protecting abortion rights and opposing voter identification laws.
"Jewish voters' preferences depend on their views on economic justice and social diversity, things like fairness in taxes, health care and reproductive rights," Cohen said. "Once those views are taken into account, then their views on Israel – be they passionately for or not, dovish or hawkish – have little if any effect upon their vote."