Campaign Confidential

Unaffiliated Jews Don't Count?

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Unaffiliated Jews — or nearly half of the country’s Jewish population — were excluded from the recent election poll commissioned by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The telephone survey, by conducted by GOP pollster Arthur Finkelstein and based on Election Day interviews with 1,000 Jewish voters in New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania, bypassed Jews who never attend synagogue or do not associate with a major movement. Despite the limited sample, the survey has been the lynchpin of the RJC’s effort to put a positive face on Jews’ overwhelming Democratic bent on November 7: Whereas a national poll conducted for major media outlets found that 87% of Jews voted for Democratic congressional candidates, the RJC has claimed that 26.4% of Jewish voters backed the GOP.

“The Jewish vote for Republicans held steady compared to reported results from 1992 to 2004,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks in a statement posted on the group’s Web site. “At the same time, in a difficult political environment, the national vote for Republicans declined significantly, resulting in the loss of control of the House and possibly the Senate.”

As it turns out, the RJC’s conception of the “Jewish vote” doesn’t include those who are not allied with a synagogue movement. In a November 17 interview with the Forward, Brooks gave an explanation for why unaffiliated Jews were screened out.

“The fact that someone eats a bagel for breakfast and they consider themselves Jewish is not really what were trying to study here,” Brooks told the Forward. “We wanted to study people who really felt that they had some denominational affiliation with the Jewish community because really this is a measure of where these kind of people vote and how they make choices and what issues drive them. So I think it’s a better predictive model to really get people — even if they go to synagogue once a year — the fact that they identify with a denomination in the Jewish community, I think, is what you really want to measure.”

Brook said that if a survey respondent answered the movement question by saying “I’m not affiliated, I’m just Jewish,” the questioning was concluded and the respondent was not included in the results.

According to Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist who studies the American Jewish community as a research professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institue of Religion, that methodogy isn’t kosher.

If the RJC’s “restrictions were in place on a national level, 54% of America’s Jews would qualify and 46% would not, ” Cohen wrote in an e-mail to the Forward, referring to figures from the results of the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey.

Cohen’s added: “The RNC-sponsored survey is distinctive in several respects. It restricts its coverage to three areas with relatively high rates of Jewish residential density, where Republican inclinations run a bit higher, a reasonable choice owing to the costs of finding Jewish respondents. It restricts its questioning initially to those who say they are Jewish by religion, excluding thoroughly secular and unengaged Jews. As we know, more religious people in America lean Republican. Then, among religiously identified Jews, the interviewers excluded those who never go to synagogue and those who do not identify with a major denomination – choices which also bias the sample in a Republican direction. With all these restrictions, it’s amazing that they found that only 26% of their selective sample voted Republican as contrasted with 13% in the AP national exit poll of Jewish voters.

“It’s also curious that Republican Party identification in this sample exceed Republican voting meaning that in effect, vast majorities of Democrats and Independents voted Democratic. In that respect, this survey is consistent with national surveys, both of Jews and Americans generally.”


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