WASHINGTON – Jewish voters overwhelmingly voted against President-elect Donald Trump, with polls suggesting that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton defeated the Republican in the Jewish community by an approximately three-to-one margin. According to a national poll conducted on election night for J Street by Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein, Clinton garnered 70 percent of the Jewish vote in contrast to Trump’s 25 percent.
While Republicans acknowledged that Trump’s personal image was at times a tough sell to Jewish voters, they emphasized that the businessman received the second-highest total Jewish vote for a Republican presidential candidate in the past three decades, outpaced only by 2012 candidate Governor Mitt Romney.
According to the Gerstein poll, approximately one-third of Jews who voted for Clinton (32%) considered their vote more of a protest against Trump rather than a ballot in favor of Clinton, while 45% of those who chose Trump considered their vote more of an act against Clinton rather than for Trump. Almost a quarter (22%) of Jewish voters said that they had donated to Clinton’s campaign, while a mere 7% said that they donated to Trump’s.
Jewish voters, Gerstein noted, “voted for Clinton more than Hispanics, and more than any other religious group including [those who identify as] no religion.”
At the same time, he acknowledged, “there is a bloc of Jewish Republicans — it exists, it is small, but it is not going away.”
Despite the overwhelming numbers in support of Clinton, both J Street and the Republican Jewish Coalition claimed that they had succeeded in taking their dueling messages to the American Jewish public. Each organization argued that its successes at ballot boxes demonstrated long-term trends in the Jewish community, while both claimed that the Iran nuclear deal had particular sway among voters this November.
“We have been making consistent inroads in the Jewish vote – the dire predictions that Donald Trump was going to get the smallest share in history of the Jewish vote never materialized,” Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks argued. Trump, he said, “got the second-highest vote total [among Jews] in the last 30 years of any Republican candidate.” While the Republican share of the Jewish vote didn’t increase in this cycle, Brooks stressed Trump’s second-place finish behind 2012 candidate Romney for total votes.
“It is our goal in every election to increase our share of the vote,” Brooks acknowledged, adding that “while are disappointed that we didn’t increase the share this time,” he still found the performance encouraging relative to “dire predictions” he had heard of low Jewish support for Trump.
Acknowledging that Trump’s personal image was at times a challenging sell among Jews, Brooks said that it was issues, and particularly the Iran deal, which helped his organization convince Jewish voters to support Republican tickets in key swing states.
The RJC had long said that it expected the Iran nuclear deal to serve a powerful role in selling its candidates – a decision that was confirmed by internal polling. Brooks said Wednesday that they made the deal “a centerpiece of our efforts,” reaching out to voters in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. Advertisements, phone bankers, and door-to-door outreach all contrasted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s support for the deal with Trump’s skeptical position toward the agreement that was considered by some Democrats to be the jewel in the Obama administration’s foreign policy crown.
“The deal was central and it paid significant dividends,” said Brooks, arguing that his organization’s efforts had a profound impact on close Senate races in the same target states. Deal opponents Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Rob Portman all retained their seats in Tuesday races, with Toomey inching by the challenger for his Pennsylvania senate seat, Democrat Katie McGintie.
Rubio’s challenger, Congressman Pat Murphy, was a vocal supporter of the nuclear agreement as a member of the House of Representatives. Murphy was endorsed by Democrat-leaning J Street’s PAC, and his defeat, while anticipated, reflected part of the RJC’s electoral strategy.
“He had announced a strategic goal of taking on J Street,” said Brooks. The RJC head claimed that its candidates won in a total of 45 out of 64 races, including 13 out of 20 Senate races in which they targeted J Street endorsees.
Brooks highlighted other successes for the organization during Tuesday’s historic elections.
“A special pride to us is the result of a longstanding effort we have had to really sort of groom and recruit a bench of future leaders from across the country to run for office,” Brooks said, noting that the election of David Kustoff to represent Tennessee in the House of Representatives doubled the total Jewish representation on the Republican side of the lower house. Fellow Jewish Republican Lee Zeldin successfully defended his New York seat to become a second-term representative.
Brooks also cited the victory of Eric Greitens, who will serve as governor of Missouri.
Brooks said that his organization raised and spent over $5 million in direct contributions for Congressional campaigns; RJC leaders also raised over $10 million for the presidential contest, not counting additional donations made through superPACs.
“I am particularly pleased with the unprecedented amount of support our members raised and gave,” he said.
Much of the RJC’s funds were spent launching what Brooks described as “an unprecedented grassroots ground operation, hiring field staff in Florida, opening a new office in Cleveland, and targeting Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida voters with over 1,000 volunteers resulting in over half a million voter contacts in those key areas.
The mood crosstown at J Street was quite different a day after the bitterly contested vote. “Although J Street did not endorse in the presidential elections, we did make it unequivocally clear that in our opinion, Trump is not fit to be the president,” J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami said Wednesday afternoon.
Acknowledging that J Street is “not particularly thrilled in the results at the top of the ticket,” Ben-Ami added that “in our view one of the most important messages and clearest lessons from the polling is that American Jews remain a bedrock democratic constituency with overwhelming disdain for Donald Trump and many of his signature policies.”
“The Trump movement didn’t succeed in moving Jewish voters into the Republican column,” Ben-Ami argued. He cited the defeats of anti-deal Senators Mark Kirk and Kelly Ayotte by J Street endorsees Tammy Duckworth and Maggie Hassan as evidence that voters had rejected what he called “anti-diplomacy politics at the congressional level.”
While the rival organizations vied to claim achievements among Jewish voters, the bipartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a statement Wednesday afternoon congratulating Trump and Pence, and welcoming an incoming cohort of members of Congress which it described as “the most pro-Israel Congress ever.”
Seeking to smooth partisan waters, AIPAC noted that “despite their deep differences on a range of issues, both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates notably shared a common commitment to the US-Israel alliance.”
“Strong bipartisan support for the Jewish state is also reflected overwhelmingly in the incoming Congress,” the organization continued in its statement. “This election once again demonstrates that support for Israel transcends partisan differences. The shared values and common interests between the United States and Israel are great constants that endure.”