Two prominent journalists said on Wednesday that Jewish voters could play an outsized role in the presidential election, particularly in the battleground state of Florida, where they represent about 3 percent of all registered voters but 8 percent of the actual electorate, according to the Jewish Demography Project at the University of Miami.
There is no doubt that a majority of Jews nationwide and in Florida will vote for President Obama, said CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, but the question is whether Republican challenger Mitt Romney can cut into the 78 percent support Obama received in winning the Sunshine State four years ago.
“The answer is yes,” Schneider said in an interview before he traveled to Boston to speak at the New Center for Arts & Culture, a Jewish programming hub. “If he were the same Mitt Romney that was governor of Massachusetts, he could win more Jewish voters. But many Jewish voters, like others, don’t trust him.”
Schneider said he expects Obama’s Jewish support level to dip into the 60s in Florida, tightening the race.
Schneider was joined on Wednesday evening at the New Center by Nate Silver, author of the New York Times’s FiveThirtyEight blog.
Silver, in a separate interview, said despite the popular narrative that Jewish voters are heavily influenced by candidates’ positions on Israel, Jews are not single-issue voters and, in fact, tend to rate the economy as a higher priority in the presidential election than Israel.
“The media likes to stereotype voting groups,” Silver said. “So Hispanics are about immigration. Jews are about Israel.”
In truth, Silver argued, Romney’s strongly worded support for Israel “is not to win the Jewish vote. It’s actually more about winning over Christian conservatives.”
Francine Achbar, executive director of the New Center, said her group organized the event with Schneider and Silver as the kickoff to its fall programming season because “there’s been an unusual amount of interest in the Jewish voter in this election.”
She acknowledged the liberal lean of most Jewish voters but said they have real questions about whether Obama in a second term can justify the hope he represented in 2008.
“After four years in office, you’re not a mythical character any more,” Achbar said.Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.