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Are Jews Drifting to the Right?

- May 23, 2008

That’s what Jodi Kantor says in the New York Times:

bq. But in recent presidential elections, Jews have drifted somewhat to the right.

Really? I took the state-level exit polls for each presidential election from 1988-2004 and combined them into one big file for each election year. This produces relatively large samples of Jewish voters (~1,000 each year). Here is the percentage of Jewish voters choosing the Democratic candidate:


Looks like a leftward drift. In 1988, 71% of Jewish voters supported Dukakis. In 2004, 79% supported Kerry. And you don’t even have to crunch the data. I typed “jewish vote” into Google and the very first link told me the same thing.[1]

Kantor is not wrong about her central thesis, although she fails to cite any systematic data to prove it: Obama’s current support among Jewish Americans is lower than that of these past Democratic candidates. Since Kantor doesn’t present any polling data about an Obama-McCain match-up, I went and found some. Just like before, it was hard: I typed “poll jew obama” into Google. Here was the first hit, a poll cited in the May 9th edition of the Jerusalem Post:

bq. A new Gallup survey found that 61% of Jewish voters prefer Obama to McCain, who got 32% of the Jewish support.

That’s how you write a story about what voters think. Don’t make vague claims about recent history, such as the “rightward shift,” without backing it up. And then, if you really want to make the case, don’t only talk to a handful of people in Boynton Beach and Boca Raton. Find some hard evidence. Google will even do it for you.

ADDENDUM: See Andrew Gelman’s post with data from the National Election Study.

[1] This webpage’s data doesn’t precisely match mine, perhaps because they are using the (smaller) national exit poll file rather than the merged state-level files that I use. In fact, they find that the percent of Jews supporting Dukakis in 1988 is even lower (64%); the difference may arise because there wasn’t a separate exit poll in every state that year and so my combined state file is missing some data. In any case, the “rightward shift” is not plausible. In fact, if anything, the leftward shift is larger, especially if you compare 1988-2004 to earlier elections in the 1970 and 1980s.