photo by wayupnorthtonowhere
photo by Ed Yourdon
Nobody in authority asked me my religion when I voted. That doesn’t happen, and if it did it would be illegal. But it appears that there are “exit polls” in which professional pollsters place themselves in front of polling places and importune voters who have just voted. I myself have never encountered such a pollster in more than 60 years of voting, but I have been told that this is, roughly, how the conversation goes:
Sir, would you mind telling me for whom you have just voted ? Thank you so much. Just a few more questions …. years of education ?, occupation ?, etc. etc., and yes, “religious preference.” And then of course there is a quick peek to ascertain race.
As a result of such exit polling, we have information on a national scale that has been shown to be more-or-less accurate for the broad demographic groups. We know that McCain, like Bush before him, received a convincing majority of the white vote. And, this time round, we know that Black people voted Obama in overwhelming numbers. The same reports that tell us these well-established things also purport to tell us about the Jewish vote: 78% for Obama. The trouble is that unlike the large demographic groups, the small minority of Jews in this country (between one and two percent of the population) make any such precision illusory.
The New York Times, for example, carried a report on the exit poll that was conducted by Edison/Mitofsky on November 4. It seems that 17,224 voters, at 300 polling places nationwide, were interviewed that day by E/M. Among these there were about 350 Jews, of whom 78%, or about 270, said that they had voted Obama, with almost all the rest having voted McCain.
To what extent can these 350 individuals be said to be representative of the American Jewish electorate ?
The sample of 300 polling places, or about 5 per state, represents about one quarter of one percent of the nation’s voting districts. It was drawn as a random sample of all the nation’s districts, and, for purposes of the larger population, can yield reliable results. But to accept its validity as representative of the Jewish population, we have to assume that the Jews of the country (roughly one or two percent of the population) are randomly distributed, more or less, over all the voting districts, all over the country. The proportionate size of the Jewish communities of Williamsburg and Borough Park would have to be similar to those of Idaho and Utah. If that assumption does not hold, there is no validity in the result. (There are statistical techniques — oversampling — used for the larger minorities, to correct for some of these problems. There is no indication that such techniques have been used for the Jewish population. I have written to Edison/Mitofsky to get details of their methods, but so far I have had no reply.)
The Brooklyn Paper has reported overwhelming support for McCain in Hasidic neighborhoods. No doubt there was heavy support for Obama on the Upper West side. The Jews of Wyoming, Idaho, Utah ? It is doubtful that the national pollsters ever encounter any of these at all. A valid sample of the American Jewish electorate would have to encompass such diversity. A national sample of all American voters, if it is of practicable size and complexity, cannot do this.
These exit polls almost certainly overstate the extent of Jewish support for Obama, for this reason: since they are based on methods that seek to create representative samples of the American population as a whole, they may do an adequate job of reaching Jews who are well dispersed in that population. But they cannot adequately reach those dense pockets of Jewish population that consist, to a large extent, of Orthodox Jews. And it is probable that these Orthodox pockets were much more favorable to McCain.
Did the Jews generally favor Obama over McCain ? Probably yes. But to the extent of 78 % ? Not likely.