As I watched the disturbing Trump-Biden debate on Sept. 29, I couldn’t help but think about the ways that Jewish voters would react and what that will mean for the election. Here are five key factors to watch:
Traumatized Voters: Tuesday evening’s terrifying performance may have only added for Jewish audiences a further state of unsettled concerns about our democracy. We saw a president unwilling to condemn white supremacy, and an election process where the outcome has further been challenged by a sitting president apparently unprepared to accept the voters’ choices while seeking to create doubt concerning the electoral process itself. Over the past several years, we have seen an uptick in Jewish concerns about physical safety and about heightened anti-Semitic and anti-Israel expressions and actions. How will this manifest itself on election day in connection with Jewish voting behavior?
The Gilded Voter: Despite the president’s conduct and questionable debate performance, there remain “hidden” voters who remain committed to the president. Last year, I labeled these as “Gilded Voters” — individuals, both Republicans and Democrats, who have benefitted from the president’s tax and fiscal policies and intend to support him for re-election in November. Within this sector, one finds Jewish voters, who may or may not publicly articulate their preference for this president. In the end, for this class of voters, the economy is the defining element.
October Surprise(s): As with past campaigns, incumbents have a distinct advantage in being able to deliver late campaign announcements. One should expect this White House to follow suit, as it has already demonstrated its capacity to deliver to the American public outcomes beneficial to the president’s re-election. Presidents have the ability to provide such outcomes through executive orders or administrative directives to change operational policies. This may entail, for example, expanding the definition of school choice (thereby creating new federal funding streams for parochial/day schools) as a means of strengthening the president’s support among religious communities concerned with rising tuition costs. In what ways might the Trump administration seek to play to Jewish and other target audiences by last-minute actions and/or statements?
In what ways might the Trump administration seek to play to Jewish and other target audiences by last-minute actions and/or statements?
Foreign Actors: As we know, many foreign players are seeking to impact the outcome of this election. What triggers might they pull to upend or influence this year’s election?
Late Money: Campaigns are dependent on early contributions, but even more important are late donations. Currently, fundraising is robust for both candidates and we are likely to see new campaign totals over the coming weeks. The 2012 election saw each candidate (Mitt Romney and Barack Obama) raise in excess of $1.2 billion. 2020 is likely to find new record outcomes. Jewish donors are heavily committed to their respective candidates and have already been identified as among the high-end financial supporters in this campaign cycle. Will we continue to see a significant flow of new dollars from Jewish contributors?
Steven Windmueller is an emeritus HUC faculty member who regularly writes about Jewish political and communal trends. His writings can be found at www.thewindreport.com.