Menu JTA Search

Strategists Ponder How Jewish Vote Would Be Affected by Perot Candidacy

When this presidential election year began, it seemed the Democrats would be able to count on winning overwhelming support from Jewish voters.

There was President Bush’s drop in approval ratings, the economic downturn and the administration’s tough stand linking loan guarantees for Israel to a cessation of settlement activity in the West Bank.

It did not seem to matter who the Democratic nominee would turn out to be. The overwhelming sentiment in the Jewish community was: Anyone is better than Bush.

But that was before Ross Perot’s expected third-party candidacy for the White House took off, albeit unofficially.

Democratic and Republican Jewish activists, who have been working for months to build up Jewish support for their respective parties’ likely nominees, are now trying to figure out from which party, if either, will there be a greater defection of Jews to Perot, assuming he decides to run.

Perot has said he will run for the presidency if he gets on all 50 state ballots. As of this week, Perot was on eight state ballots: California, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

The would-be candidate is “definitely not behind schedule” in his attempt to secure a place on all 50 state ballots, an aide said from campaign headquarters in Dallas.

Perot’s biggest obstacle is in New York, where the campaign law would have to be changed to accommodate his candidacy.

Democratic Jewish activists had hoped that the marked drop in Bush’s level of Jewish support since the last election would help reverse his slim 1988 victories in various key states.

Democratic political consultant Mark Siegel, who supports Bill Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, said that if the election were held today, the Arkansas governor would probably receive 75 percent of the Jewish vote, with Perot getting 15 percent and Bush 10 percent.

But Matthew Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, which will support Bush once he becomes the Republican nominee, said that if the election were held today, Clinton would get 45 percent of the Jewish vote, Perot 38 percent and Bush 17 percent.

SIGNIFICANT FALLOFF FOR BUSH

But Siegel and Brooks do agree in one respect: that Bush will experience a significant falloff from his 30 to 35 percent share of the Jewish vote in 1988.

Brooks predicted that Bush’s Jewish base of 17 percent would include large numbers of the youngest Jewish voters, as well as religiously observant Jews.

Siegel countered that since religious Jewish voters are generally the most hard-line of Jews when it comes to supporting Israel, they would be most disenchanted by Bush’s tough talk last September about being “one lonely guy” against “thousands of lobbyists” seeking loan guarantees for Israel.

Brooks believes Perot’s candidacy will cut deeply into Clinton’s base of Jewish support. He cited what he called a strong protest vote against Clinton by Jewish voters who backed former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts in some of this year’s Democratic primary contests.

Brooks also said there are many similarities between Clinton and Perot on specific issues of Jewish concern. Both men, for instance, support a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Brooks drew a parallel between the strong Jewish Tsongas vote and the substantial Jewish support that then Rep. John Anderson (R-III.) received in 1980, when he ran as a third-party candidate against incumbent President Jimmy Carter and his ultimately successful challenger, Ronald Reagan.

Anderson received close to 20 percent of the Jewish vote, compared to 6 percent of the overall vote.

But Siegel said that Anderson’s success among Jews was due to their anger at Carter’s support for a Palestinian homeland and their fear about Reagan’s conservative views on social issues. Carter and Reagan each received around 40 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980.

NO HOSTILITY TOWARD CLINTON

While the Anderson vote was made up largely of “Democratic Carter protest voters who couldn’t vote for Reagan,” no similar hostility exists between Jews and Clinton, Siegel argued.

“The Democratic base in presidential elections is 75 percent unless there is an extraordinary circumstance like there was in 1980,” he said.

But Brooks argued that Jews who voted for Tsongas were sending a message that “they don’t like Bill Clinton and they want an alternative. Perot is now filling that vacuum.”

If there is one factor that would make Perot seem inclined toward a reasonably strong pro-Israel policy, it is that his top campaign adviser, Morton Meyerson, is a Jew who has been active in numerous Jewish causes, said Siegel.

“Sure Perot is going to say all the appropriate things,” Siegel said. But “if by some chance he became president, it would be reassuring that someone close, like Morton Meyerson, was there with him.”

NEXT STORY