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Despite his efforts to cultivate them, American Jews have never liked Donald Trump.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote against Trump by 48% to 46%. Only 37% of white voters favored Clinton, but of those, Jews did so by 71% to 23%. Four years later, Joe Biden beat Trump 51% to 49%. Only 41% of white voters picked Biden, but among Jewish voters, almost all of whom are white, Biden received 77% of their votes.
Since the early 1900s, no group of white Americans has been more liberal and more Democratic than American Jews, but their partisan loyalty was strengthened during the turmoil of the Great Depression. In 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover for president with 57% of the popular vote, 82% of Jewish voters supported FDR. In 1948, Harry Truman won the White House with 50% of the vote, but Jews gave him 75% of their vote, plus 15% for Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace, and a mere 10% for Republican Tom Dewey. In 1960, John F. Kennedy squeaked out a victory over Richard Nixon, getting barely more than 50% of all votes, but among American Jews, it was no contest, with JFK garnering 82% of their votes. In 2008, Barack Obama bested John McCain by 53% to 46%, but he won 78% of the Jewish vote. Four years later, when Obama defeated Mitt Romney with 51% of the vote, 69% of Jews voted for the nation’s first Black president.
In the upcoming 2024 contest, if Trump is the GOP nominee, he’ll get even fewer Jewish votes than last time. Most Jews reject Republican policy positions and trust Democrats over Republicans on all major issues, including fighting antisemitism, but Trump’s extremism is particularly unpopular among Jewish voters.
A June 2023 survey of registered Jewish voters showed Biden leading Trump 72% to 22%, with 7% still undecided. Three quarters (76%) of Orthodox Jews (who represent only one-tenth of all Jews) said they intended to vote for Trump compared with 23% of Jews affiliated with the Conservative movement, 13% who identify as Reform Jews, and 16% who expressed no ties to any Jewish denomination.
But that poll was taken before his growing entanglement of criminal and civil trials, including the indictments related to his handling of classified documents, his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, and he and his co-defendants’ scheme to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia.
Most hardcore Trump supporters view these indictments as evidence of a Democratic-led witch hunt against Trump. But independent voters, including some who voted for Trump, are more likely to be uncomfortable with a candidate for president who is facing such significant and challenging legal problems of his own making, particularly if he is convicted of one or more of these crimes. Trump may even lose support among some Orthodox Jews.
Four factors, in particular, contribute to American Jews’ overwhelming opposition to Trump.
Anti-Semitism and White Supremacy
Trump not only has a long history of using anti-Semitic rhetoric and stereotypes himself, but he also, as a presidential candidate and president, has given support and encouragement to hate groups whose bigotry extends to Jews, immigrants, African Americans, and others, including the killing of Jews by Trump followers in Pittsburgh, Poway, Highland Park, and elsewhere.
Trump’s core supporters include white supremacist and anti-Semitic extremists, while his closest allies in Congress include the unapologetically anti-Semitic Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who is reportedly angling to become his 2024 vice presidential running mate.
Trump’s embrace of anti-Semitic tropes, and of far-right extremists who evoke white nationalist conspiracy notions about Jews, has driven Jewish voters away.
Anti-Semitic comments on social media skyrocketed after Trump announced his campaign. An ADL report uncovered more than 2.6 million tweets with anti-Semitic comments and images from August 2015 to July 2016 — a huge upsurge from the previous year. Many of the commenters identified themselves as Trump supporters or Clinton haters, and many of the tweets (including death threats) were directed at Jewish journalists who had been critical of Trump.
It was no accident that anti-Semitic comments and incidents spiked after Trump began campaigning for president in 2015. While Trump takes umbrage at being called an anti-Semite – “I’m the least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen,” he’s said on several occasions – his use of anti-Semitic stereotypes has emboldened extremists. He verbalizes, encourages, enables, tolerates, winks at, and makes excuses for anti-Semitism, most notably when he said that some of the Nazis marching in Charlottesville in 2017 were “good people.”
During his 2016 campaign, Trump tweeted a graphic borrowed from 8chan, a website frequented by white supremacists, showing Hillary Clinton against a backdrop of $100 bills. Inside a six-pointed red star (clearly the Star of David) were the words, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”
In a speech in October 2016, Trump claimed that “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.” He didn’t need to use the word “Jew” to evoke the sort of global banking cabal familiar to anyone who has read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic forgery that has fueled anti-Jewish violence for over a century. Trump’s comments were not an off-hand remark. The speech was designed to fire up his white nationalist supporters. Trump’s frequent references at campaign rallies and during the debates to Sidney Blumenthal, George Soros, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz — Jewish supporters of Hillary Clinton — were also no accident.
In Trump’s final 2016 campaign video, a clear appeal to anti-Semitism, he warned of “those who control the levers of power in Washington” and of “global special interests” who “partner with these people who don’t have your good in mind,” while pictures flashed of Hillary Clinton and three Jews: Soros, then-Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
In December 2019, speaking at the Israeli American Council in Florida, Trump doubled down on his use of anti-Semitic stereotypes. “A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all,” he said. “But you have to vote for me — you have no choice. You’re not gonna vote for Pocahontas (his nasty nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren), I can tell you that. You’re not gonna vote for the wealth tax. Yeah, let’s take 100 percent of your wealth away!”
Trump’s constant rants about immigrants “invading” the United States are also tied to the long-standing anti-Semitic slur that Jews have conspired to destroy America by encouraging mass immigration by non-white people. These racist fears are the origin of the slogan “Jews will not replace us,” chanted by the white supremacists who marched with Nazi flags and torches in Charlottesville. In 2018, Trump baselessly accused Democrats of encouraging a caravan of refugees to seek entry into the United States, while his close ally Matt Gaetz, a Florida congressman, accused philanthropist George Soros, a Jewish man and a Democrat, of funding the caravan.
The shooters who went on rampages at synagogues in Poway, California and Pittsburgh echoed this canard about Jews plotting to promote non-white immigration.
Robert Crimo — who killed seven people and injured more than 30 people with a semi-automatic rifle during a July 4, 2022 parade in Highland Park, a heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago –- had posted anti-Jewish and racist material online, as well as a photo on Twitter showing him draped in a Trump flag.
American Jews account for 2.4% of the U.S. population, but they are the victims of 63% of reported religiously motivated hate crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
A 2019 poll found that 71% of Jews disapproved of Trump’s handling of the upsurge of anti-Semitism in America and nearly 60% believe that he bears some responsibility for the shootings at synagogues and in communities.
Trump’s Attack on Democracy
Trump’s illegal efforts to undermine American democracy – including trying to overturn the 2020 election and inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capital – was, according to polling, particularly galling to American Jews, who strongly believe in civil rights, free speech, and maintaining a fair and level playing field so that the voices of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities can be heard. His embrace of authoritarian leaders around the world – including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Victor Orban – makes Jewish voters fearful and uneasy, surveys suggest, as Jewish people are aware that they have been treated harshly by such tyrannical regimes.
The Trump followers who participated in the January 6 insurrection include members and leaders of hate groups who espouse anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, including neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Asked in the June 2023 poll to identify two issues that are most important to them when deciding how to vote in 2024, 37% of Jews listed “the future of democracy” – more than any other issue.
If Trump is elected in 2024, his disdain for democracy and the rule of law, and his support for hate groups, including anti-Semites, may reach new heights.
Abortion and Other Social Issues
Jews disagree with Trump on core social policy matters. They overwhelmingly disapproved of Trump’s handling of family separations at the Mexican border (78%), treatment of DACA recipients (74%), guns (74%), the Mueller Report (73%), building the border wall (71%), taxes (70%), Supreme Court nominations (69%), health care (69%), and banning immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries (66%).
Even before the upsurge of anti-Semitic shootings, Jews were strong advocates of gun control. According to a 2005 American Jewish Committee study, Jews have the lowest rate of gun ownership of all religious groups. Only 10% percent of Jews owned a gun, compared with 26% of all Americans.
The recent surge in deadly attacks – not only those against Jews – has boosted Jews’ embrace of gun control policies. A September 2022 survey of Jewish voters found near-unanimous support for gun safety measures, with 96% support for requiring comprehensive background checks for all gun purchases, 91% support raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, and 85% support banning assault weapons. Trump, an ardent NRA ally, vehemently opposes these policies.
But no issue is more important to American Jews than a woman’s right to choose. Jews are fervently pro-choice. Among Jews, 88% percent believe that abortion should be legal (compared to 62% of all Americans) and 80% percent are worried that women no longer have that constitutional right.
The Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade – made possible by Trump’s Supreme Court appointments — has triggered an uptick in outrage among Americans across the political spectrum. Two months later, voters in Kansas – a conservative and Republican state – voted overwhelmingly (59% to 41%) to uphold a woman’s right to abortion.
The Dobbs decision created a backlash that has undermined Trump’s support, especially among women. Some 15 states have nearly prohibited abortion and numerous other states have placed restrictions on abortion practices. This has aroused widespread Jewish concern and engagement. In the June 2023 poll, 25% of Jewish men, but only 16% of Jewish women, said they would vote for Trump – a reflection of the key importance of abortion in shaping how women are approaching next year’s presidential and Congressional elections.
Although almost three quarters (72%) of American Jews feel attached to Israel, a majority oppose Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his increasingly anti-democratic, theocratic, and authoritarian practices, including the expanding occupation of Arab areas, and blatant mistreatment of Palestinians within Israel. This has been accelerated in recent months by Netanyahu’s efforts to undermine Israel’s judicial system and, like Trump, keep himself out of prison, after being indicted for breach of trust, accepting bribes, and fraud. The June survey of American Jews discovered that only 28% of them have a favorable view of Netanyahu.
Trump has been a strong supporter of Netanyahu, which is not surprising, since their attitudes and policies are mirror images of each other.
Despite Jews’ basic support for Israel, only 6% consider it a top concern when deciding how to vote, ranking it 10th out of 11 possible issues. When it comes to voting, Jews view other issues as more important.
Several times during his presidency, Trump questioned American Jews’ support for Israel and challenged the loyalty of Jews who vote for Democrats. Last October, Trump repeated those canards, tweeting: “No President has done more for Israel than I have. Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S.” He warned American Jews to “get their act together” to show appreciation for Israel “before it is too late.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, accused Trump of “Jewsplaining,” noting that “we don’t need the former president, who curries favor with extremists and antisemites, to lecture us about the US-Israel relationship.”
Retired Army Col. Alexander Vindman — who was Director for European Affairs for Trump’s National Security Council and whose Congressional testimony provided evidence that Trump abused his power in discussions with the Ukrainian president – warned that Trump “is executing the fascist playbook to turn his mob on Jews.”
Trump’s vociferous embrace of his ideological twin Netanyahu will weaken his support among the minority of Jews who voted for him in 2016 and 2020.
Which Jews Have Supported Trump?
Only 10% of the Jewish community are Orthodox, but they have been the most fervent Trump supporters. They not only have conservative, traditional views about abortion, same-sex marriage, and other social issues but they are also the most zealous supporters of Netanyahu, U.S. military aid to Israel, and the occupation of Arab territories.
The 2020 Pew poll discovered that 81% of Orthodox Jews, 29% of Conservative Jews, 18% of Reform Jews, and 21% of non-affiliated Jews approved of Trump’s job performance. The differences persisted in terms of Jews’ views of Trump’s handling of U.S. relations with Israel: 86% of Orthodox Jews, but only 52% of Conservative Jews, 36% of Reform Jews, and 26% of unaffiliated Jews, approved. Many Orthodox Jews have ignored or downplayed Trump’s anti-Semitism and support for hate groups, so long as he embraces Netanyahu and Israel’s right-wing forces.
Orthodox Jews tend to have lower incomes and are less well-educated than other Jews, both factors that are associated, among white Americans, with support for Trump. Orthodox Jews share other characteristics with ardent Trump supporters, including white evangelical Christians, who accounted for almost half of all Trump voters in both 2016 and 2020, and who, for different reasons, claim an intense support for Israel as well as traditional values on social issues. But even those Orthodox Jews who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 are not likely to be involved with the white supremacist, neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant, and gun rights extremists who are his hard core followers.
Even among Orthodox Jews, there are differences in religious practices and political views, including attitudes toward Israel. Younger “modern” Orthodox Jews are less traditional in their religious practices and less fervent conservatives. To the extent that they see a connection between Trump and the upsurge of anti-Semitism, it may sour some of them on the mayor of Mar-a-Lago.
Because Orthodox Jews represent less than one-third of the Jewish voters who pulled the lever for Trump in 2016 and 2020, the decline in his Jewish support in next year’s election is likely to come from other quarters. Among the small number of Reform, Conservative, and non-affiliated Jews who voted for Trump before, most are more likely to either stay home from the polls or vote for Biden next year.
Few Jews are likely to vote for the Green Party candidate, or a No Labels candidate, knowing that it would take votes away from Biden and help Trump.
When accused of fostering anti-Semitism, Trump often reminds people that his daughter Ivanka married a Jew (Jared Kushner), converted to Judaism, and raises their children as Orthodox Jews. But for Jewish voters, Trump is strictly unkosher.