Orthodox Jews represent an estimated 10 percent to 11 percent of the American Jewish population. They also represent the fastest growing segment of the American Jewish community and overwhelmingly vote for Republican presidential candidates. They still often vote for Democratic House and Senate candidates.
That wasn’t always the case. Orthodox Jews used to be more open to Democratic candidates.
With demographic estimates and that history in mind, Democrats hope to persuade Orthodox Jews to vote Democratic again – or at least remain open to the possibility.
“It at times might seem like an oxymoron – Orthodox Jews in the Democratic Party,” said Jeff Wice, an activist involved in the National Jewish Democratic Council. He moderated a panel discussion Wednesday at the organization’s Washington conference on what Democrats can do to reach out to Orthodox voters.
“Will this group be the Log Cabin Democrats?” he joked in a reference to Log Cabin Republicans, the gay rights group that is often at the fringe’s of its party’s politics.
Panelists, including Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union, pollster Mark Mellman, and Rabbi Yeruchim Silber of the Metropolitan Jewish Health System, predicted that Democrats have a good case to make to Orthodox voters. But they predicted it will be no quick fix.
Silber said not much can probably be done in the remaining 40 or so days until the election. He called for Democrats to create a permanent Orthodox coordinator to build relationships for the 2012 presidential election and beyond.
“Bring them back home to the party they felt comfortable in,” he said.
They may have their work cut out for them. The panel discussion drew an audience of fewer than 30 people. At least one-fifth of those in attendance were reporters or NJDC staff.