The "Jewish vote" may well play a key role in the outcome of the presidential races in New York and Pennsylvania, and to a lesser, but still significant, extent in Florida, Illinois, and California.
Interviews with Jewish leaders and rank-and-file voters of various political persuasions in these five states with the biggest Jewish populations reveal that the traditional alliance with the Democratic Party has eroded.
However, few suggest that a majority of Jewish voters in any of these states will vote for Ronald Reagan. Roughly 75 percent of all Jewish voters nationally are registered Democrats. But even pro-Carter Jewish leaders as well as top Carter campaign aides concede that the amount of Jewish voter defection to the Republican nominee may be the greatest ever.
According to Milton H. Himmelfarb, research director of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee, fully 10 percent of the nation's Jewish voters, who traditionally have been counted on to support a Democratic presidential candidate, may well vote Republican this time.
New York Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo, who heads President Carter's re-election campaign in the Empire State, told the Monitor that "we won't get the Jewish vote as strongly as we did in the past," but that this shift to Mr. Reagan won't be enough to deny New York State to Mr. Carter.
Mr. Cuomo's explanation of the reason for the shift in New York State typifies much, but certainly not all, of the reason elsewhere. "Since 1948, and until Carter," Mr. Cuomo says, "we had a policy in which the American presidency was always 100 percent behind Israel. But Carter has chosen to be a "mediator" in the Mideast, and he sowed the seeds of discontent among Jewish voters."
According to figures compiled by the American Jewish Committee, there are approximately 1 million Jewish voters in New York State and 2.5 million Jewish voters nationwide. Jews tend to vote much more heavily than most other ethnic groups.
Jewish voters constitute about 25 percent of all New York voters. In 1976, they were a major reason for Carter's gaining the state's crucial 41 electoral votes. Now many close political observers say that if independent John Anderson amasses 10 percent of the overall popular vote here, that portion of the Jewish vote that goes Republican could swing the state to Reagan.
In Pennsylvania, whose 27 electoral votes are seen as crucial to both Carter and Reagan, prominent Jews are chairing both the statewide and Philadelphia Reagan-Bush campaign committees. Seven percent of all Pennsylvania voters are Jewish.
Perhaps the biggest indication of the expected trend of more Jewish voters picking a Republican for president this year is what is happening in the middle- and lower middle-class Northeast section of Philadelphia, with a Jewish population of about 100,000. "That's where the Democratic erosion is taking place," says Murray Friedman, a prominent community leader. Some of this drift is because of economic issues, he asserts.