Date published: November 4, 2010
Soon after casting his ballot at Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood, Larry Rubin, 69, stood in the brisk autumn air and reflected on his vote.
"I'm very disappointed with the way our government is going," Rubin said, explaining why he'd voted a straight Republican ticket. "I'm very concerned about my grandchildren and the future they are going to face.
"I would just like for them to be in a position to enjoy what I have had in my life," stated the Wynnewood resident.
Rubin was far from alone in expressing fear about the nation's current direction and the possible outcome of the state's top races. But among Jews, his Republican vote was clearly in the minority.
According to exit interviews, as well as a formal survey, most Jewish Pennsylvanians voted the Democratic line and expressed fears about the direction of the Republican Party.
"I think the Republicans are crazy, and the Tea Party people are even crazier," said 85-yearold Sheldon Kapustin, of Melrose Park, after voting at Gratz College.
In the end, despite an intensive Republican advertising blitz and renewed speculation that Jews might desert the Democratic Party, they overwhelmingly backed Democrats in key state races, even as the nation's political tide turned to the GOP.
A telephone survey, conducted by Gerstein-Agne Strategic Communications, of 600 Jewish voters in Pennsylvania on Election Day found that 71 percent of Jews backed Democrat Joe Sestak, while 23 percent opted for Republican Pat Toomey.
Participants were called at random from a list of about 150,000 individuals culled from voter data. The survey took an average of 15 minutes and delved into how voters were affected by a series of ads depicting Sestak as anti-Israel.
It was commissioned by J Street, the group that bills itself as "pro-Israel, pro-peace" and had endorsed Sestak in his ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the victor, Toomey
According to pollster Jim Gerstein, the survey has a 4 percent margin of error. He said that it was the most substantive Election Day poll ever taken of Jewish voters in a single state. The poll's sponsors not only wanted to know who Jews had opted for in the Senate and gubernatorial races, but to what extent the Israel issue - and a back-and-forth advertising campaign - had influenced how Jews vote.
It's hard to compare this telephone survey with exit polls of Jewish voters from the last U.S. Senate race in 2006. However, in that race, 78 percent of Jewish voters backed the Democrat, Sen. Bob Casey, compared with 22 percent who voted for Rick Santorum.
In the governor's race, Democrat Dan Onorato captured 68 percent of the Jewish vote, while Republican Tom Corbett, the state's next governor, got 27 percent.
Support for Democrats in local and state races mirrored continuing Jewish support for the president. President Barack Obama enjoyed a 63 percent approval rating among Jews surveyed; he captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008.
For years, the Republican Jewish Coalition and its backers have asserted that the GOP is the far better party on Israel, and that the Democrats have come to embrace a kind of moral relativism that is less sympathetic to the Jewish state. Democrats hâve long disputed this, contending that both parties are pro-Israel, and that Republican attempts to politicize the issue undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship.
What was different this year was the frequency that ads focusing on Israel appeared on television. In part because of the ruling in a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that allowed for corporate and anonymous donations, groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition and the newly formed Emergency Committee for Israel were free to raise and spend more than ever before. Sestak became one of the prime targets of those groups.
The RJC and Emergency Committee ran television spots that criticized Sestak for signing a congressional letter calling for the easing of Israel's Gaza blockade. This summer, J Street responded with an ad highlighting Sestak's pro-Israel voting record, as well as his commitment to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a two-state solution.
In its final push, the RJC, which spent $1.2 million on this race, aired an ad attacking Sestak for his support for trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts.
According to Gerstein, the poll shows that the ad campaigns had little impact. "The efforts to make Israel a key issue in the campaign with less than 3 percent of the statewide population did nothing to move voters in that population; the only people who were affected were Republicans who weren't leaving Toomey anyway" he said.
Thirty percent of the survey respondents said they had heard about criticism of Sestak's position on Israel, while 60 percent said they hadn't.
Of all the respondents, 5 percent said the criticism made them more likely to vote for Sestak; 8 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Toomey; and 16 percent said it made no difference.
Asked about the Republican Jewish Coalition's ad focusing on Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, 39 percent of respondents said they had seen it, and 55 percent did not. Of those, 11 percent said that the ad made them more likely to back Sestak, 4 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Toomey, and 24 percent said it made no difference.
When asked about their top concerns in this election, 55 percent of respondents cited the economy as their top concern, 35 percent chose health care, and 8 percent named Israel.