Bernie Sanders Could Be The First Jewish President — But So Far, Jewish Voters Don’t ‘Feel The Bern’

If Bernie Sanders actually becomes President of the United States, his election will represent a milestone not only in American politics, but in U.S. history — the first Jewish president. That achievement would be all the more remarkable considering that only about 2.2 percent of the U.S. population is Jewish.

By comparison, African-Americans make up 13.2 percent of the U.S. population. While Hillary Clinton would, of course, be the first woman elected president, women make up more than 50 percent of the population not only in the United States, but of the entire human race.

Sanders, who recent polls show is gaining ground nationally and appears likely to win the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary in February, now stands on the verge what would appear to be of a remarkable moment for the American Jewish community. And yet, available polling appears to show that the self-proclaimed “proud to be Jewish” candidate who is the son of Polish immigrants and whose father’s entire family was lost in the Holocaust, does not enjoy strong support from Jewish voters.

Polls of Jewish opinion regarding Sanders have been scarce, but according to a recent report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service, the most recent poll available shows Clinton dominating the race against Sanders with Jewish voters.

In the poll, conducted last September by American Jewish Committee, Clinton had the backing of 40 percent of Jewish voters, with Sanders garnering only 18 percent.

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The problem, said one top Jewish Clinton supporter, may be that Sanders does not make a major issue of his ethnic background.

“God love him, but our community is not feeling ‘the Bern,'” said Steve Rabinowitz, a founder of the Clinton-backing group, Jewish Americans Ready For Hillary. “He does not deny [his Judaism], he does not shrink from it, when asked about it he says the right thing — but we’d like it on his sleeve.”

In the below video, comedian Seth Meyers attempts to make sense of the Bernie Sanders surge.

While Sanders by his own admission is “not particularly religious” — a factor that could work against him in a national election against a Republican candidate, many political observers believe — he has also said that his Jewish identity is what motivated him to become involved in politics in the first place.

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932,” Sanders told The Christian Science Monitor newspaper last year. “He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

In fact, other political observers say that Sanders does indeed wear his Jewish identity on “his sleeve,” and that his identifiable Jewishness may hurt him in a general election.

“The country is, I think, ready for the innovation of a woman president,” wrote political blogger Arthur Goldhammer in the American Prospect magazine this week. “It might be ready for the innovation of a Jewish president, if he or she were of a more conventional stripe than Bernie Sanders. But a secular Jewish socialist president with a Brooklyn accent? As much as I wish I could imagine the possibility, I cannot.”

Bernie Sanders Jewish Black
A recent poll shows black voters turning away from Bernie Sanders (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Nonetheless, Sanders’ rise in the Democratic race appears remarkable, though according to polling expert Nate Silver, how much headway Sanders has really made against Clinton on a national level remains unclear.

A new poll of Democratic voters released this week by Monmouth University shows that Sanders has shaved 18 percentage points off of Clinton’s national lead since December — but still trails by a daunting 15 points.

The poll also found that while most demographic groups have swung toward Sanders, African-American and Latino voters show a significant surge in support for Clinton, suggesting that Bernie Sanders continues to have a problem connecting with voters from those minority groups, as well as with members of the even smaller minority group to which he, himself, belongs — Jewish Americans.

[Photo By Sean Rayford/Getty Images]