In October 1972, the New York Times published a provocative article whose headline read, “GOP Intensifies Drive to Attract Jews to Nixon.” Seeking to exploit Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s imprecise position on the Arab-Israeli conflict and his growing association with extreme elements in the Democratic Party, some of which identified Zionism as a neo-colonial and racist political creed, the Republican machine worked in over-drive that year to peel off large numbers of American Jewish voters.
“After months of working through the so-called establishment in the Jewish community,” explained the Old Gray Lady, “the men running President Nixon’s re-election effort have taken their vigorous effort to increase his share of the normally Democratic Jewish vote into the neighborhoods and the streets of the cities.”
It didn’t work. The following month, McGovern won roughly two-thirds of the Jewish vote, according to exit polls. To be sure, the results suggested a sharp drop-off from the high levels of support—80 percent and more—that FDR (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944), Harry Truman (1948), JFK (1960), LBJ (1964) and Hubert Humphrey (1968) had enjoyed among American Jews, but they were on par with Jewish support for Adlai Stevenson (1952, 1956), Jimmy Carter (1976), Walter Mondale (1984), and Michael Dukakis (1988). In a year when McGovern carried just 31 percent of the white vote, Jews—a small but important portion of “white ethnic” America—stood out as an anomaly.