The day after the special election to replace Rep. Weiner was won by the Republican Turner over the Democrat Weprin, a few things are clear:
(2) A district that went for Obama by 11% in 2008 went strongly for a Republican candidate.
(3) A district that gave Weiner a 20% margin of victory in 2010 (a year that was mostly a Republican tsunami nationwide) went strongly for a Republican candidate.
(4) The district has a very unusual composition ethnically and religiously: 1/3 of voters are Jews, and 1/3 of those are Orthodox. However, the losing Democrat was an Orthodox Jew and the winning Republican a Catholic.
It’s difficult to know exactly what this all might mean in the long run—except that I think it’s safe to say that, although it may be “good for the Jews”, it’s not good for Obama. Was the main issue here the president’s lack of support for Israel, or generalized discontent with the economy, or other factors such as Democrat Weprin’s vote for same-sex marriage (which is against Orthodox Jewish law), or some combination of them all? Only the voters know for sure, and I haven’t seen any exit polls to indicate which of these was most important.
Turner’s victory cannot be explained by saying that in general, Orthodox Jews tend to be more Republican. Although they indeed do, the voting results in this district for 2008 and 2010 make it clear that many there who voted Democratic just a short while ago had to have changed their vote to Republican now. And when Jews start to desert the Democratic Party, the Democrats have got to feel the ground shaking beneath them.
This Jerusalem Post article explains a bit more about why:
Ari Fleischer, former spokesman to president George W. Bush, said at a panel discussion at the AIPAC conference in May that if Obama wins over the Jews 4:1, as he did last time, he wins the next election; but that if he only takes the Jews 3:1, he’s in trouble. A shift of a few percentage votes among Jews in 2012 in key battleground states with large Jewish populations such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania could have a huge impact in a close presidential race.
Though some will say that the Jews who live in the Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods that make up the 9th district that was up for grabs Tuesday – the district that once belonged to disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner – are not reflective of American Jewish demographics: that the Jews there are more religious and Russian than the national average, which makes them more conservative. However, the Jewish demographics in southern Florida, where presidential elections have been won and lost before, does reflect to some degree the demographics in Queens and Brooklyn, as many of the Jews in south Florida hail from areas represented in the contested congressional district: Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, Sheepshead Bay.
Jews are a very small group, representing only 1.7% of the population of the US. However, as Fleischer points out, a change in the Jewish vote can affect totals in large states that will be exceedingly important in 2012. Weprin seems to be less an anomaly and more the canary in Obama’s mine.