Both Sides Of The Aisle
Young Republicans and Democrats sound off about today’s issues.
According to a dozen surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the Democratic Party lost voters from across the religious spectrum, including Jews, since Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.
“The share of voters identifying with or leaning toward the GOP has either grown or held steady in every major religious group,” the report said. “This includes both religious groups that are part of the GOP’s traditional constituency as well as some groups that have tended to be more aligned with the Democratic Party, including Jewish voters.”
In the surveys among 27,395 voters conducted over the course of 2011, the percentage of voters identifying as Republican has held steady at 28 percent. However, those identifying themselves as independent rose four points, from 34 to 38 percent, while Democrats dropped the same amount from 38 percent to 34 percent. The margin of error is 1.
The surveys show that in 2008, 72 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats and 20 percent identified as Republicans, which was a 52-point advantage. By 2011, the gap closed to 36 points — 65 percent identified as Democrats, and 29 percent identified with the GOP.
Although the sample size of Jews is 330 voters with a relatively high margin of error of 6.5, it supports the general trend: Democrats are losing voters.
The Jewish News checked in with some young, local, politically active Jews on both sides of the aisle to find out their thoughts on the surveys and the factors they think might be influencing Jews away from the Democratic Party: the economy and Israel.
Bubba Urdan, 42, of West Bloomfield, running for a State Representative seat in the 39th District of West Bloomfield and Commerce, has always been a Republican.
“Less government is the only way to keep this country great,” said Urdan, who is running against three Republican opponents in the August primary election.
He agrees that the economy and Israel are reasons for Jewish voters to move to the GOP.
“Democrats are leading us down a tax-and-spend road where there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Unemployment benefits need to be refined, recipients need to be retrained and people have to get that great American spirit back, which created the greatest country in the history of the planet.”
He also said that Obama has not held up to the promises he made to Israel and might only be coming around to those promises in an election year.
Jeffrey J. Schostak, 28, of Birmingham is director of corporate real estate services at Livonia-based Schostak Brothers & Co. Inc.
He became politically active while raising money for John McCain in 2008 and thinks that Jews are looking at the Republican Party for economic reasons and Israel. The social issues don’t matter as much anymore, he says.
“No matter how you slice it, America is still the most forward-thinking nation as far as equal human rights to all citizens. To us young people, the national economy and the ability to compete with the rest of the developed world, and our growing national debt are the two most important issues,” he said.
“There does not tend to be a lot of change with the social issues, whereas the economic policies regarding taxation and government regulations actually do get altered quite frequently, and, I believe, have much more of an effect on our daily lives as Americans in the working world.
“Obama’s anti-settlement views and overall weak support of Israel have moved a lot of Jews away from him,” he added. “The president seems more concerned with Israel attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran having nukes, and a nuclear Iran is a major threat to Israel’s existence.”
Lena Epstein Koretzky, 30, of Bloomfield Hills has been a Republican since she felt love for President George H.W. Bush as a little girl.
But the co-owner and general manager of Southfield-based Vesco Oil Corp. didn’t become politically active until she returned home from her honeymoon about a year-and-a-half ago and told her husband, Brett, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired watching decision makers in our political system make decisions that are going to negatively impact our family, our business and our community,” she said. “I want to be involved.”
Within one year, she found herself with a leadership position in the Oakland County and Michigan Republican parties.
Now she’s the Lincoln Club president and was in charge of the Oakland County Lincoln Day Dinner, the quintessential Republican fundraiser for the year, which drew 1,400 people.
Jews have always been involved in the Republican Party, and the numbers are growing, she said. “The driving force for so many Jewish people who affiliate with the Republican Party is the belief in fiscal conservatism, that a community, state and our country is a healthier place when people can earn money, keep money, grow wealth and fuel that money back into the economy.”
Ryan Fishman, 23, of Birmingham, a second-year law student at Wayne State University, became interested in politics when he saw the “scourge of Muslim terrorism” on a trip to Israel after his bar mitzvah.
“I felt strongly about George W. Bush, the war on terror, and our duty as Americans to stand by our soldiers and against this threat to our own security, so I actively campaigned for him, knocking on doors and making phone calls,” said Fishman. “I made so many phone calls and spent so much of my time campaigning that the local Bush team on two occasions invited me to sit behind the president.”
Israel and national security are his primary concerns as a Jew, but as far as Obama’s economic policies are concerned, “I am bothered by a sort of redistribution of wealth philosophy,” he said. Fishman’s grandfather was a Holocaust survivor who came here with nothing, and his father worked his way through undergraduate and law school to pay for his education, he said. “When I was 14, for my birthday he got me a job application.
“I also worked a full-time job during three years of undergraduate school, and now through law school I continue to be employed,” he said. “My appreciation of hard work, savings and that you have to earn what you want out of life were not taught to me as Republican concepts.
“My father, mother, grandparents are all Democrats, but I think the fundamentals they taught me are that in the face of persecution and without anybody looking to help you out but your own family, neighbors and friends, you can make something of your life,” he said. “I think the Republicans may be more verbose when it comes to Israel, but I think both parties are committed to Israel.”
Jeremy Moss, 25, Southfield City Council member and proud Democrat, agrees.
“There’s an unfair perception that Barack Obama has been soft in his support for Israel, but that myth is dispelled by just examining what the president has done in the last three years,” he said. “I was at the Yeshiva Beth Yehudah dinner last year when Vice President Joe Biden, the keynote speaker, articulated point by point what the administration has achieved to help maintain a secure Israeli state, including helping Israel to develop a missile defense system and imposing tighter sanctions on Iran.”
He also thinks that the trend of Jews turning Republican might reverse itself if certain conditions are met.
“In our area, Oakland County Republicans are fiscally conservative but ambivalent, or even progressive, on social issues,” he said. “Should the economy take an upswing, I think that Republican Jews might realize that major tenants of the Republican Party platform are out of touch with the Jewish religion.”
Hy Safran, 27, of Royal Oak said the Democratic Party has a long history of “standing up for the values Jewish voters hold dear, such as working to improve our educational system, fighting for economic and social justice, advocating for the separation of church and state, empowering women and minorities, safeguarding a woman’s right to choose and strongly standing with Israel.
“Likewise, Jews have long been at the forefront of informing the direction of the Democratic Party and its values,” said Safran, congressional outreach director for U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. “Just like the United States and Israel have common values and common vision, so, too, does the Democratic Party and the American Jewish community. It is this unbreakable bond that explains why self-identified Democratic Jewish voters always outnumber self-identified Republican Jewish voters by such significant margins.”
There is nothing definitive in the perceived Jewish shift to the GOP, said Kenneth Bandler, director of media relations for the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee. “We will know more after AJC completes its new survey of American Jews in April,” he said.
According to the AJC’s annual survey taken in September 2011, Obama had a 45 percent overall approval rating among Jews. He also had a 40 percent approval on the handling of U.S Israel relations, but it was down from 54 percent in 2010.
Republican Fishman said that, rhetoric and surveys aside, the last four years “are a wonderful lesson for my generation: There is no shame in being moderate. There is no shame in only agreeing with some of your party’s platform.
“Ultimately, for anything to get done in Washington, Lansing or whatever political institution you are concerned with,” he said, “there have to be leaders who are willing to come to the middle, build consensus and agree to get back to work and take care of the business that impacts our economy — that should be our focus.”
By Harry Kirsbaum|Contributing Writer