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Bush Made Inroads Among Jewish Voters, Study Shows

Times Staff Writer

Jewish voters remained overwhelmingly Democratic in the 2004 presidential election, but President Bush made inroads with those who attend religious services most often, according to a study to be released today.

The study by a think tank associated with the National Jewish Democratic Council mostly confirmed the initial impression from exit polls in November that found little movement toward Bush among American Jews.

Before the election, some analysts predicted that Bush would make substantial gains among Jews because of his strong support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who met with the president Monday at Bush’s Texas ranch.

But the initial Edison/Mitofsky National Election Pool exit poll had found that Jews preferred the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, over Bush by 74% to 25%. The Los Angeles Times exit poll had found an almost identical 74% to 26% split among Jews.

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The new study, conducted by the Solomon Project, a Washington-based group encouraging civil involvement by the Jewish community, reexamined the results by factoring in hundreds of Jews that the National Election Pool surveyed in state exit polls but did not include in its original number. After that recalculation, the study concluded that Kerry’s percentage was slightly larger than originally reported, at about 77% to 22%.

Either way, the results represented only a small change from the last few elections. In 2000, exit polls found that Al Gore won 79% of the Jewish vote; Bill Clinton carried 78% in 1996 and a record 80% in 1992. Republicans held Democrats to two-thirds or less of the Jewish vote during the three elections of the 1980s -- Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1988.

The most valuable aspect of the study may be its effort to examine political fissures within the Jewish community. Information on such divides is usually sketchy because Jews constitute such a small share of the population and thus appear too infrequently in surveys to be carefully measured.

But by including the additional state respondents, the study was able to draw finer distinctions -- some of which pointed toward possible Republican beachheads.

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The study found that the gender gap among Jews was much wider than among the population overall. Bush carried just 16% of Jewish women, the study found, but 28% of men.

He ran especially well with Jewish men under 30, carrying 35% of them, compared with 60% for Kerry.

By comparison, young Jewish women preferred Kerry by a ratio of more than 7 to 1, the survey found. Kerry’s best group was Jewish women over 60, who backed him over Bush 10 to 1, the study calculated.

The study also released results among Jewish voters from surveys conducted during the campaign’s final month by Kerry pollster Mark Mellman. Those polls found a strong link between religious observance and partisan behavior.

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According to Mellman’s surveys, Jews who attended religious services weekly split their votes evenly between Bush and Kerry, while Kerry amassed big leads among those who attended less often.

That mimics a powerful trend among Catholics and Protestants. Frequency of church attendance has become one of the strongest predictors of voting behavior, with those who worship most regularly leaning Republican and those who attend less often voting more Democratic.

Mellman’s surveys provide the most tangible evidence yet of that pattern spreading to Jews.


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