With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

A Voting History of American Jews From 1916 to Today

Last week, Donald Trump said that American Jews who vote Democratic show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” The statement has incited the vast majority of the American Jewish community. Many Jewish organizations combined forces to criticize Trump’s Tweets. AIPAC (America-Israel Public Affairs Committee), a strongly pro-Israel lobbying group, even joined with J Street, a competing organization often critical of Israel’s government, to criticize Trump’s language. To many, the assertion that Jews had an obligation to support Israel echoed the “dual loyalty” trope that Nazi Germany, Czarist and Stalinist Russia, and other nations in earlier times utilized to  promote anti-Semitism.

The historical record shows that American Jews have a long history of supporting Democrats since statistics began to be kept in 1916. The Jewish population primarily migrated to Northern and Midwestern cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many found the Democratic party political machines to be receptive to their needs, beginning with New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, who ran for President in 1928. Once Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal came along in the 1930s, the alliance of American Jews and the Democratic Party was sealed.

Many Jews became engaged in state and local Democratic politics, worked in Congress, and even served as advisers to Democratic Presidents. The Republicans largely did not work to gain the support of the Jewish community, and fewer Jews participated in Republican Party causes, which tended to be much more conservative, and opposed to the New Deal and the later Great Society initiatives under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Historically, Democratic presidential candidates have received a majority of the Jewish vote. Woodrow Wilson received 55% of the Jewish vote in 1916 after he promoted the appointment of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice.  In 1920, Socialist Eugene Debs won 38 percent of the Jewish vote.  Democrat James Cox received 19 percent of the Jewish vote which combined showed that a minority of Jews voted for Republican nominee and future President Warren G. Harding.  In 1924, Democrat John W. Davis won 51 percent of the Jewish vote, Progressive Robert La Follette Sr. won 22 percent, and Republican President Calvin Coolidge only won 27 percent of the vote. 

After 1924, Democrats won wide percentages of the Jewish vote. Alfred E. Smith won 72 percent in 1928.  Franklin D. Roosevelt won 82, 85, 90 and 90 percent of the Jewish vote in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944, respectively. In 1948, Harry Truman won 75 percent and Progressive Henry A Wallace won 15 percent, leaving Republican nominee Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York only 10 percent of the Jewish vote. Even against popular war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, Democrat Adlai Stevenson won 64 and 60 percent of the Jewish vote in 1952 and 1956, respectively.  John F. Kennedy won 82 percent, Lyndon B. Johnson 90 percent, Hubert Humphrey 81 percent, George McGovern 65 percent, and Jimmy Carter 76% of the Jewish vote in the elections of 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976, respectively.

In 1980, Carter only received 45 percent of the Jewish vote as many felt he had been too critical of Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians. Nevertheless, when combined with Independent John Anderson’s 15 percent of the Jewish vote, Republican nominee and future President Ronald Reagan still received only 39 percent of the Jewish-American vote. In 1984, Walter Mondale, Carter’s former Vice President,  received 57 percent against Reagan’s 31 percent. After that, a vast majority of Jewish Americans voted for the Democratic presidential nominee: Michael Dukakis (64 percent); Bill Clinton (80 and 78 percent); Al Gore (79 percent); John Kerry (76 percent); Barack Obama (78 and 69 percent); and Hillary Clinton (71 percent) between 1988 and 2016.

It is clear that Trump’s attack on the Jewish vote will backfire, and that the Democratic nominee for President, no matter who it is in 2020, will likely gain at least 80 percent of the American Jewish vote especially considering that in the Midterm Congressional elections of 2018, 79 percent of American Jews voted for Democrats.  Nothing is likely to change the dedication of the American Jewish community to the Democratic Party, continuing the long loyalty and commitment they have with the party that has promoted their basic social and economic views.