Russian immigrants trending Republican, Russian Jews moreso

The violinist plays a song of Russian triumph and with that, the 67th Victory Day’s Celebration at Temple Judea Mitzpah is concluded. It is a day of speeches and pride as well as remembrance of those lost during World War II. For many Russian immigrants, the Victory Day’s Celebration put on by the Veteran’s Association of Skokie is a chance to reminisce about Russia, while remembering why many Russian immigrants came to the United States.

People come from all over the Chicago area to participate in the Victory Day Celebration at Temple Judea Mizpah. (Photo credit: Susan Wexler, HIAS, 2010)

For Russian immigrant Nikolas Boyco the answer is simple: “Capitalism!” Boyco, like many other Russian immigrants, views the neoliberal policies of the United States as the main reason he chose to immigrate. Boyco points to a dislike of big government and a life spent in a Russia in economic shambles as his reason for coming to America. Yet it is this dislike of big government and affinity for capitalism that also cause him as well as thousands of Russian immigrants to vote Republican.

The Russian immigrant population has vastly increased in the last several decades. Since the 1990s and the end of the Soviet Union, the number of Jewish Russian immigrants to Chicago has more than doubled. The numbers increased from 19,048 in 1990 to 47,266 in 2000. This increase in population has created a conservative voting bloc in an area that historically votes Democratic. In the 2008 election in Cook County, 76% of voters (1,608,870 votes) cast for Obama; 23% (482,395 votes) went to McCain. According to the 2010 US Census, Russian immigrants make up 1.63% of the population in Cook County and the majority of their votes will be going Republican.

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This story is part of a unique collaboration of twelve Chicago area ethnic news media examining how different immigrant communities in and around Chicago are approaching the 2012 election campaigns. The stories were released in June 2012 by Africa Today, Al Moustaqbal – Future newspaper (Arab), Bulgaria Weekly, Draugas – The Lituanian World-wide Daily, Extra (Hispanic), India Tribune, InformacjeUSA.com (Polish), Korea Daily News, Pinoy Newsmagazine (Filipino), Reflejos (Hispanic),  Reklama (Russian), and  Urdu Times (Pakistani). Click here to access the other stories: Indian Americans shift party allegiance and take their money with them, An election dilemma for Poles: Vote religion or immigration, Bulgarian immigrants may abandon Obama, but voting participation unclear, Pakistani Americans mobilize for the elections…back in Pakistan, Memories of corruption and the Machine stunt Latino vote, Dual citizenship for Lithuanians not for everyone, For Arabs, there’s more to American citizenship than voting, Filipino immigrants stepping onto the political scene, PERC leads Korean immigrant community into the political process, and African activism coming off the sidelines.

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The Jewish Russian immigrant voting bloc tends to vote more conservatively than most Russian immigrants. According to the Washington, DC-based Republican Jewish Coalition, in 2008, 30% of Jews voted Republican. But when this group is narrowed to Russian Jews, the percent tops 80% for McCain in 2008, according to the coalition.

A woman shows photos of her family who were lost during WWII. Many people bring photos of loved ones to remember at the Victory Day Celebration at Temple Judea Mizpah. (Photo credit: Susan Wexler, HIAS, 2010)

This affinity for Republican candidates is often attributed to an aversion Russian Jews have for talk of income redistribution, in reaction to the disastrous results they attribute to it in the Soviet Union.

“In America my vote counts,” stated a source who wished to remain anonymous. “I am not going to waste my vote on government that wants more control of my life and money. I left the [food] lines in Russia. I do not want to return to a government that takes what is mine and misuses it.”

Even today Jewish Russian immigrants, especially the older voting bloc, remember an era in which big government caused them economic distress and many years of hardship. Many Russian immigrants also their Republican voting record to the Reagan Legacy. For some Russians, the appreciation they feel towards former President Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party for ending the Soviet Union and their economic distress will never end.

“We lived through the fall of the wall,” explains Natasha Verlinsy, 68, “I remember the end of the regime and the excitement that came with the possibility of less government control.”

A man dressed in uniform being commemorated at the Victory Day Celebration at Temple Judea Mizpah. (Photo credit: Susan Wexler, HIAS, 2010)

Rafail Ogulnik attributes the conservative Jewish Russian voting trend to more than simply economics. He states that Jewish Russian immigrants, he included, are worried about “exactly the same things as the rest of the country; a lousy economy, lousy morals, and social decay.” These notions of
loosening morals as far as the Jewish Russian immigrants are concerned are better addressed by the Republican Party and a more conservative social stance.

The preference for limited government and Republican voting movement amongst Jewish Russian immigrants is
not restricted to Chicago. A New York Times article published in May explains that immigrants from the
former Soviet Union are much more likely to vote Republican even in New York City, another historically Democratic voting constituency. The story cites an
affinity for capitalism as the main reason Russian immigrants vote Republican.

Joel B. Pollak, a Republican Congressional candidate who lost to Democrat Jan Schakowsky in 2010,  puts it simply, “Russian immigrants tend to support candidates that understand the importance of freedom and limited government, and are not easily fooled by those who promise government will solve all their problems.”

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