Jews vote for Republican candidates sometimes in state and local races, but Republicans might as well give up trying to get Jews to vote for the GOP presidential ticket. At least, that's the way it seemed until the Jewish newspaper in Philadelphia, The Jewish Exponent, commissioned an exit poll. (The exit poll had a margin of error of 4.9%.) Overall, the exit poll found that Jews in Greater Philadelphia voted for Gore/Lieberman over Bush/Cheney 77.6% to 18.6% (with just 3.8% voting for Ralph Nader). This is consistent with national totals.
But there was big news: young Jews voted for Bush! The exit poll found that the older the Jewish voters were, the more Democratic they were. An amazing 95% of Jews over age 65 voted Democratic. Of Jews who were 30-49 years of age, 82.4% voted for Gore. But Jews under age 30 voted for Bush/Cheney, 59.3% to Gore's 40.7%.
If these figures are right, and there is no reason to doubt them, that's an amazing generational break. First-time and second-time Jewish voters--in colleges and universities, starting their careers, perhaps starting families--apparently do not have their elders' loyalty to the Democratic Party. Why not? One can only speculate. Perhaps they do not share previous generations' romantic attachment to the Party of FDR, Truman, and JFK. Perhaps they were attracted to Bush's economic policies. Perhaps they just liked Bush, or disliked Gore, more than their parents or grandparents.
But if the data is correct, it means a significant change in American Jewish voting patterns may yet appear. Older voters have a greater tendency to go to the polls and cast their votes than do those who are 18 to 29. Their 95-5 preference for Democrats therefore heavily weights the Jewish vote toward the Democratic Party. But in four and eight and twelve years, some of those older voters will no longer be on the scene, while the younger voters of this year will be in their twenties, thirties, and forties, and still voting--and joined perhaps by other Jews of their age who skipped the 2000 election but (now older and more responsible) start voting.
This suggests a strategy for Republicans: forget the chance of winning older Jews, and focus on younger members of the community--and especially men, who vote Republican more than women. Hit the college campuses and grad schools, visit companies with lots of young hires, pay attention to YMHAs or community centers where younger Jews congregate.
Jews who are Democrats should welcome this development for one powerful reason: if Jews are considered swing votes, both parties will court us. If we are considered absolutely sure Democratic voters, the Democrats may take us for granted while the Republicans may give up on winning our votes. Whatever one's own partisan attachments, the Jewish community will be better off if we are a prize for which everyone is competing. And as the Exponent's data suggests, that may be where the community is heading, as a new generation of Jewish voters replaces the old.