Co-blogger David Bernstein is skeptical of reports that fundraisers for Mitt Romney are losing out on Republican Jewish donors because some of the latter are giving to Michele Bachmann instead, based on a mistaken impression that she is Jewish. The reports could well be false or exaggerated. But I am less skeptical about them than David.
Given widespread political ignorance, it would not be surprising if there were many Jews (and non-Jews) who misjudged Bachmann’s ethnicity based on her last name, which does indeed sound vaguely Jewish. In my experience, many Americans (including many Jews) are confused about which names are likely to be Jewish and which ones are not. Many people also underestimate the extent to which non-Jews often have stereotypically Jewish names. For example, many probably don’t realize that there are non-Jewish Rosenbergs, such as the notorious Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg.
My own last name, Somin, is Jewish in the sense that a Somin is much more likely to be Jewish than the bearer of a random Eastern European name. But there are nonetheless a number of non-Jewish Somins, including one I found on the internet who is an anti-Semitic Russian nationalist. Many people don’t realize that Somin is a Jewish name at all. Some of those who do know tend to assume that all Somins must be Jewish.
To be sure, as David suggests, an experienced Republican Jewish donor is unlikely to be confused about Bachmann. But the Romney campaign, which has an extensive organization that dates back to the last election cycle, could well be reaching out to smaller donors who are not as knowledgeable. They may include first-time contributors who only recently became interested in Republican politics. Given strict contribution limits of $2500 per person, many campaigns try to find small donors who can give a few hundred dollars each. Such people are often not as well-informed as longtime activists and major donors, and could easily be confused about Bachmann’s background because of her name.