Not only are all politics local, all politics are personal. And no issue, with the possible exception of preservation of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, is more personal to most American Jewish women voters than reproductive rights, including access to legal abortion. So much so that thirty years ago a group of Chicago Jewish women founded JACPAC, now a leading political action committee, whose primary criteria for candidate support are that the candidate be pro-choice, as well pro-Israel. Thirty years out, JACPAC is still going strong.
And so much so that the National Council of Jewish Women earlier this year launched a special project, Voices for Reproductive Choices, “…an emergency action campaign designed to help powerful NCJW advocates speak out against current attacks to women’s reproductive health and rights.” No pussy-footing at NCJW either.
Yet, CNN has recently posed the question: Has Obama lost the Jewish vote?, suggesting that Jews, who have historically been mostly Democratic and pro-choice (see below), might vote for President Obama’s (likely anti-choice) Republican opponent because of their distaste for the President’s position on Palestinian statehood. As I mulled this horrifying prospect over, it hit me: If there’s a problem here for the President, the solution is clear: gathering to his side, soon, the hundreds of thousands of pro-choice Jewish women who really don’t want to vote for an anti-choice Presidential candidate, even if she/he is pro-Israel. How to convince the President to do this, when the issue of abortion rights is about his least favorite, not one he has ever wanted to use to rally people to his side, and probably doesn’t want to now, either.
Here’s how: In its 2005 survey, Jewish Distinctiveness in America: A Statistical Portrait, the American Jewish Committee reported that 77.3 percent of Jewish Americans are pro-choice, regarding “abortion for any reason.” This is over twice as many as the percentage of African Americans or “Hispanics.” And while these numbers aren’t broken-out by gender, I think it’s fair to assume that women predominate among Jews who are pro-choice.
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So what, you say: Jews are a miniscule percentage of the U.S. population (the percentage is 2.2) and the adult women voters among them an even smaller percentage. What difference could these women possibly make to the President’s re-election chances? Forget about it, as they say on the Jewish, as well as the Italian, streets of New York and New Jersey.
Here are the facts that do matter: 1) Most Jewish women are Democrats. 2) Most Jewish women vote. 3) “In terms of presidential voting, Jews are more likely to vote Democratic than any other White [sic] ethnic group…By religion Jews are the most Democratic of presidential voters. Likewise, Jews are lower than only Blacks in identifying as Democrats and are the most Democratic of religious groups.”
And the clincher: 4) Most Jewish Americans live in states that have big Electoral College numbers. These states include: New York (31), Florida (27), California (55), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), Texas (34), Illinois (21) and New Jersey (15), states that it just so happens the President has to win if he’s going to be re-elected. And since the 2010 Census changed the count in the Electoral College “…the Democratic Party (now has) a net loss of six electoral votes in states won by Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama in the past three presidential elections.” Further, judging by my own admittedly unscientific, but several-decades’-long survey of pro-choice advocates, Jewish women predominate among single issue voters on the issue of abortion rights.
While one can argue this conclusion of mine around the margins; for instance, that maybe the President can win in Colorado, and some other smaller states, and, thereby, say, make up for a loss in Ohio or New Jersey, the fact remains that since it’s winner take all in the Electoral College, the President’s first task is to win the big states, just those states where Jewish women predominate. In a study conducted by Celinda Lake earlier this year, she reported that “……Americans support family planning with such intensity that it can be called a core American value, and they are willing to punish politicians who try to cut public funding for it.” Now, you might argue that views about family planning aren’t necessarily a proxy for views about access to abortion, but, for Jewish women voters, they likely are (see above). In any event, why risk it? Which brings me back to the President’s re-election strategy: If I were in his war room, I’d say: Mr. President: It’s time to be a leading advocate for access to abortion, lest those Jewish women dismayed by your policies on the economy and Israel decide they might as well vote for your Republican opponent. And, lest you, my readers, think I’m blowing smoke on this one, here are some numbers from that CNN piece:
Fifty-four percent of Jewish Americans approved of Obama’s performance as president in September, compared with 60 percent in June and 68 percent in May, according to Gallup polling. A statewide New York poll taken by Siena College in August found Obama’s approval at 52 percent among all Empire State voters and at 49 percent among the state’s Jewish voters. Although Obama received a 67 percent approval rating among Democrats in the state, he garnered 49 percent approval from Jewish Democrats.
Mr. President: It really is pro-choice or no choice these days. For your own sake, time to say so, and then gather Jewish women voters to your side. You could do way worse. You could even not win.