Browbeating Jewish voters hasn’t yet worked for Trump

Speaking to reporters at an airport in Georgia on Wednesday, former president Donald Trump reiterated one of his more unusual political appeals: browbeating Jewish Americans for not voting exclusively for Republicans.

Trump was asked whether he thought the United States was showing sufficient support for Israel, triggering the comments.

President Biden “has totally lost control of the Israel situation,” Trump insisted. “He has abandoned Israel. He has totally abandoned Israel. And, frankly — you know, he’s a low-IQ individual. He has no idea where he is and who he’s supporting. He doesn’t know if he’s supporting the Palestinians. But he knows one thing: He is not supporting Israel. He has abandoned Israel.”

This is familiar terrain, the wild, hyperbolic and inconsistent attacks on a political opponent. (How does Biden both not know who he’s supporting and know who he isn’t supporting?) So was Trump’s pivot, from a discussion about Israel to his complaint about Jewish Americans.

“Any Jewish person that votes for a Democrat or votes for Biden,” Trump continued, “should have their head examined.”

This idea that the politics of Jewish Americans are necessarily dependent on Israel is a long-standing one for Trump. Nor is his disparagement of Jewish Democrats new, even this week. On Monday, he told an interviewer that “any Jewish person that votes for Biden does not love Israel and, frankly, should be spoken to.”

Such comments run the risk of triggering an avalanche of overthinking. Does he mean it? Is he exaggerating? Is he playing some long game trying to appeal to his non-Jewish supporters by amplifying how Biden is allegedly abandoning Israel?

Let’s set that aside. We can observe, though, that Trump’s assumptions about Jewish American views of Israel are overly simple. Pew Research Center polling conducted several years before the war in Gaza found that viewing Israel as an important part of being Jewish was split along party lines among American Jews. Jewish Democrats were more likely to say that the United States was too supportive of Israel than that it was not supportive enough; the opposite was true for Jewish Republicans.

That may have shifted since Oct. 7, certainly. Using data released by Pew this week, however, we can observe that the Trump era has not triggered an exodus from the Democratic Party among Jewish Americans. In 2015, the year he first announced his bid for the presidency, 66 percent of Jewish Americans identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, twice the number as identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents.

Last year, the gap had extended to 40 points, with 69 percent of Jewish Americans identifying as Democrats or Democratic-leaning.

There were some ups and downs in between. In 2020, the year Trump was up for reelection, it was only 24 points, the lowest point on record. But the image presented above is not one of a sharp change toward one party or another, indicating that Trump’s repeated demands that Jewish Americans abandon the left are not having much success. Not that we would expect them to.

We can see some shifts among religious groups in the Pew data. White evangelical Protestants, for example, have shifted dramatically to the right since 2000. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints trended more Republican, too, though that peaked at about the time that Mitt Romney, a member of the church, became the GOP’s presidential nominee. The shift in partisan identity among Jewish Americans is more subtle — and predates Trump.

Again, it may simply be the case that Trump is trying to frame Jewish Democrats negatively in the eyes of his supporters. It is certainly conceivable, though, that he is legitimately incensed that Jewish Americans aren’t broadly supporting his candidacy.

Maybe chastising them one more time will do the trick.


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