There is a joke economists tell, about two economists who meet each other in a polling place. “What are you doing here?” one asks the other. “My wife made me come,” was the reply. The first economist nodded knowingly. “Yeah,” he says, “me too.”
As is the case with all good jokes, there is a real truth behind the humor. A little over 10 years ago, economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter conducted a study wherein they reviewed more than 50,000 elections, going all the way back to 1898, and found that only eight times was the margin of victory one vote. So, they argue, from an economic point of view, it doesn’t make sense for an individual to go out and vote.
While they (and other economists) might very well be right about individuals, what they don’t take into account is the idea of (Bava Basra 9b) “Kol nima v’nima mitztarefes l’beged gadol — a bunch of single threads add up to a big garment.” When one is a part of something larger than just one’s self, the calculation should no longer be about what one could accomplish on one’s own. Rather, it is what one can do by oneself, which, when taken together with others, will have a larger impact.
The argument against voting is inherently self-centered, and it assumes that our actions are in a vacuum. But our ability to be part of something greater than ourselves — i.e., our community — renders that particular argument moot.
Still, in most cases, it’s hard to see how even a group of people going out to vote can have an impact. And our seeming inability to have an impact leads to apathy, which further diminishes our ability to actually impact a race.
This election cycle, however, is different. Besides the twists and turns and the unpredictable nature of the Republican presidential primary, it offers the Orthodox community an opportunity so rare that most people don’t recognize it for what it is.
The Orthodox community can have a real and actual impact on the race for president of the United States.
I’m not exaggerating. The race for the presidency may very well come down to whom the Republican Party nominates. All the recent polling data (and by all I mean without any exception) show that if Donald Trump is the nominee, Hillary Clinton would beat him easily — many polls showing the margin of victory being over 10 points. If he isn’t the nominee, there is a reasonable expectation, based on head-to-head polls and favorability ratings, that the Republican nominee would win the race.
Having grown up in New York, I am very aware how much of a unicorn a Republican is in the city. By virtue of the overwhelming majority Democrats have there, registering as a Republican means you have virtually no say in who runs the city and who is sent to represent your district in Congress, to say nothing about statewide races.
But that very reason is why New York Republicans, especially in Orthodox districts, can have such an outsized effect on the presidential race. In New York’s GOP primary, delegates are being given out based on who wins individual congressional districts, not a proportional distribution based on statewide vote totals.
Congressional districts are not drawn based on how many Republicans live in the district; they are drawn based on total population. So in New York City, congressional districts have very few registered Republicans in them. The primary is also a closed one, so only registered Republicans can vote.
An average congressional district in New York has over 700,000 residents. The paucity of registered Republicans means that in most predominantly Orthodox districts, delegates will be awarded based on an election where only 30,000 people are eligible to vote.
Not that there is any chance all 30,000 would go vote. Reviewing the 2012 primary results to get a rough idea of how many people might turn out per district reveals that in some districts, there were fewer than 1,000 people who actually voted. (In the 10th CD, only 608 people voted.)
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that every single delegate counts. Senator Marco Rubio, despite having dropped out of the race, sent a letter to the Alaska GOP requesting to keep his five delegates, in order to keep three of them away from Trump and hold him below the 1,237 number he needs to reach to clinch the nomination. Three delegates are also what is awarded for every congressional district in New York.
It’s kind of appropriate for this election cycle, where literally nothing has made any sense, that the people who have no say in anything electorally (i.e., Republicans in New York City) may just have the greatest influence in deciding its outcome. The fact that this occurs in a place where Orthodox people can “add up to a big garment” means that we are uniquely suited to have an impact and deliver a district to whichever candidate is best suited to win the election.
But, as always, we need to actually go out to vote to make a difference.