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University News

Political scientist: Jewish vote not crucial

Contributing Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010

The Jewish vote “doesn’t seem to matter” in determining the outcome of U.S. presidential elections, political scientist Bryan Daves argued Thursday evening. The Yeshiva University professor presented his study of election data to about 15 students and faculty at the Watson Institute for International Studies.

In a talk heavy on numbers and graphs, Daves framed his theories against those presented by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their 2006 work “The Israel Lobby.” Mearsheimer and Walt argued that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, is able to affect U.S. presidential elections and policymaking.

In response, Daves said his research shows that, despite the high concentration of Jewish voters in crucial swing states, the Jewish vote does not impact presidential elections or policymaking decisions.

For example, the polling data Daves studied showed that about 60 percent of American Jews support the dismantlement of settlements in the West Bank. In addition, the portion of American Jews who support the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state is roughly equal to the overall percentage of Americans who hold that view, Daves said.

Daves’ argument against the importance of American Jewish voting relied in part on an experiment using voting records. He took voting data from the past 40 years and, counterfactually, gave 25 percent of the Jewish vote to the losing candidate. This changed the winner of the election only once, in 1976. Daves attributed this to the diversity of opinion in the American Jewish community.

In 2008, there were about 2.7 million Jews in the United States, according to a survey taken that year.

Daves also said the Obama administration “overpromised” on what it could achieve in the Middle East. Obama became a “vessel into which a number of people poured their hopes,” leading inevitably to disappointment, though “the guy’s doing what he said he was going to do.” As a result, Obama now has the “distinct privilege” of “terrible ratings” in both Israel and the Arab world, Daves said.

Daves said his research raises the question of what the actual “causal factor” in American-Israeli relations is. Melani Cammett, associate professor of political science and director of Middle East Studies, described this as the “million-dollar question.”

The talk was part of the Middle Eastern Seminar series, run through the Watson Institute.

Students said they appreciated Daves’ focus on facts and figures.

David Gordon ’13 said it was “great because he talked about facts and not political opinions.”

Andrea Dillon ‘11.5 said that “if electoral politics are not the determining factor in the relationship,” it’s important to know what is, since “we live in a democracy.”

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