President Joe Biden at a menorah lighting with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker (left) and Holocaust Survivor Bronia Brandman in the Grand Foyer of the White House./BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/via GETTY IMAGES

How Jews could swing the vote away from Trump in Florida

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How Jews could swing the vote away from Trump in Florida

President Joe Biden at a menorah lighting with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker (left) and Holocaust Survivor Bronia Brandman in the Grand Foyer of the White House./BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/via GETTY IMAGES

VERO BEACH, Fla. – Suddenly the Jewish vote matters.

Not in Massachusetts. It will go Democratic no matter how Jews vote. Nor in New York and California, where two in five American Jews live. Those giant states – accounting for 82 electoral votes, 30 percent of the total needed to win the White House – are comfortably in the Joe Biden column. No one cares how the Jews there will vote.

But in an election that likely will be very close – where the unexpected is expected and where all of the assumptions of American politics can be dumped in the trash bin – the Jewish vote is nudging a state that the Republicans have carried in eight of the last 11 presidential elections into new political territory:

Florida has become possibly a swing state – one that holds 30 electoral votes, third highest in the country.

“The Jewish vote is a vote to watch in Florida,” said Susan McManus, the emerita University of South Florida political scientist regarded as the state’s leading political analyst.

The notion that Biden actually could carry Florida – the home of Donald Trump and a state that the former president carried in the last two elections – emerged early this month, when the Biden team indicated that it considered the Sunshine State within its grasp. A logical corollary is that Jews, who comprise as much as 5 percent of the voting population of Florida, could swing Florida to Biden.

“The Democrats have a real chance of capturing Florida,” Ira Sheskin, a geographer who is the director of the University of Miami’s Jewish Demography Project and is the editor of the American Jewish Yearbook, said in an interview. “And the Jewish vote can make a difference.”

This new status as a competitive state is derived from the peculiar politics of Florida, where the Republicans account for the governor, both senators, and 20 of the 28 members of the House of Representatives – and where Trump prevailed by nearly 400,000 votes in the 2020 election. But the allure and power of GOP Governor Ron DeSantis is substantially diluted after his disastrous performance in the Republican nomination fight. He didn’t even survive until the voters in New Hampshire actually went to the polls for their late January primary – and by the Florida Supreme Court decision earlier this month affirming legislation that banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

But a ballot initiative that would protect abortion rights at the general level permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision will be on the Florida ballot in November – a development that almost certainly will draw progressives and other Democrats to polling places. More than four out of five Jews believe abortion should be legal in almost all cases, according to the Pew Research Center.

A separate ballot measure in Florida – on recreational marijuana – also may increase turnout; a November 2023 Gallup Poll found that support for legalizing marijuana in the U.S. is highest among Democrats and liberals. Nearly half of Jewish adults identify as liberal, as opposed to only about a quarter of Florida adults generally, according to the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University.

A Biden-Harris billboard in Florida in 2020.

Some 672,000 Jews live in Florida for at least eight months of the year, joined by another 65,000 snowbirds – Jews from the North who migrate to the state roughly from Hanukkah to Passover but who likely vote in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. That means that 3 percent of the state’s voting population are Jews – but the power of the Jewish vote is amplified by the customary high turnout of Jewish voters. Some 95 percent of Jews in Florida as well as nationwide are registered to vote and actually do.

“Until very recently, there wasn’t much talk about the Jewish vote here,” said Mac Stipanovich, a onetime prominent Republican political strategist who left the party during the Trump years. “But in a state like this, any significant group can make a difference. There may be debate about Trump’s play for the Jewish vote on things like Israel, but Joe Biden has had a lifetime of support of Israel. The typical Jewish voter likely won’t be tempted to go to Trump unless the progressive Democrats go even further in supporting the Palestinians.”

For the first 250 years after Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León reached Florida in 1513, the only white settlers with Jewish roots here were conversos, former Jews who converted to Catholicism, mostly under pressure. The first known Jews to settle here came after England acquired the area from Spain in the 1763 Treaty of Paris that also ended the French and Indian War. When the territory was returned to Spain a decade later, a census showed the presence of a Polish Jew named David Moses in St. Augustine. Jews were permitted to remain in the Spanish territory and eventually more trickled in, with the first Jewish cemetery being established in Jacksonville in 1857. The first B’nai B’rith chapter began in 1874, with Temple Beth El in Pensacola – the state’s oldest congregation – opening in 1876.

By 2003, Jews were prominent enough in the state that Governor Jeb Bush signed a measure designating January as Florida Jewish History Month. By then, hundreds of thousands of Jews had settled in the state, some after World War II veterans returned North after training in Florida (particularly in Pensacola), with memories of a pleasant climate and little congestion, and many others after reaching retirement age in frosty northern states. They were drawn in part by the establishment of kosher or kosher-style restaurants throughout the southeastern part of the state. Younger families were attracted by the growth of Jewish day schools.

These new Floridians brought their old politics with them.

“They traditionally have voted Democratic and likely will continue to do so,” said Sheskin. “That’s true despite the fact that people say, without evidence, that Jews are leaning more to the Republicans. The Jews who are doing so generally are the Orthodox, and they are a minimal number of Floridians, mostly outside Miami.”

Florida is home of the third largest Jewish electorate but has the largest Jewish population of a state that is plausibly competitive in the November election. Three-fourths of Florida’s Jews live in seven southeastern coast congressional districts that include Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, according to the Steinhardt Institute. The group’s study, conducted by the American Jewish Population Project, found that about half of Florida’s Jews are college-educated, about twice the rate of all Florida voters and the sweet spot for the modern Democratic Party. Exit polls show that 55 percent of college-educated Americans voted for Biden in the last election.

The likelihood that Florida will be competitive in November, and the power of the Jewish vote, may create an unusual style of campaigning here.

“Winning the Jewish vote here is different than in other places,” said Sheskin. “We have condominiums here that are both high-rises and single-family homes where there are clubhouses. And the clubhouses attract candidates. Those clubhouses make it easy for Jews to go to events and are attractive venues for candidates. They can get to a lot of people and do a lot of convincing that way.” Θ

David M. Shribman, who won a Pulitzer Prize as Washington bureau chief of the Boston Globe, is executive editor emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and McGill University.

2 Responses

  1. After all we have seen from the Great Equivocator – Joe Biden’s handlers – why would any Jew vote for Biden in November? It is time for Jewish voters to join the exodus from the Democrat party along with the African Americans, Hispanics, and other immigrants whose votes have been taken for granted by the Democrats.

    Everyone should realize – these are NOT our parents Democrats!

  2. I totally agree. Many Democrats do not like Jews or Israel. Look at the “Squad” who are Democrats and have come out against Jews and Israel. The Democratic Party has been take over by radicals. Wake up Jews!

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