I was reading through the poll John wrote about, and must say I’m much more skeptical than he is as to the significance of the numbers. The sample is so small that it’s hard to draw any conclusion, and the outcome just doesn’t make sense. In fact, it contradicts everything we know about the Jewish vote. To be convinced that something is really going on we will need much more than this one poll. True, Barack Obama does have a bit of a problem with some Jewish voters, especially the elderly Jews of Florida, but to assume that McCain can come even close to beating Obama among Jews (and by 22 points, no less) seems far-fetched.
The last two Gallup polls dealing specifically with Jewish voters reflected what everybody knows–Obama is not as popular as a Hillary Clinton could have been with Jewish voters. But the numbers were also much more realistic: Obama will still get more Jewish votes than McCain, and it’s hard to imagine McCain breaking Reagan’s record. For this to happen, he’d have to run against a Carter after four years in office–not against an Obama.
In the Gallup polls, Obama got around 60% of the Jewish vote and McCain got a little bit more than 30%. That is 13% less for Obama than the percentage of Jewish Americans who voted for John Kerry back in 2004, and 7% more for McCain than the number of Jewish Americans who voted for Bush back in 2004. I think McCain can expect to get a little more than that number–although some observers have argued in the past couple of days that for many Jewish voters Sarah Palin is a downer (I’d wait for the polls before I weigh in on the validity of that charge).
There are many interesting questions regarding the Jewish vote, but since John’s zeroed in on Pennsylvania I’ll make a couple of remarks on the Jewish vote in this state. Back in March, Obama was closing the gap on Hillary Clinton among Jewish Democrats–an achievement–but the polls also showed that Jews who preferred Clinton were more prone to defect to the McCain camp if Obama became the nominee. That is why Obama was only leading McCain 61-32, and Clinton was leading McCain 66-27. Since Obama eventually won, it’s only natural to expect that some Jewish voters have decided to act on this threat.
In Pennsylvania, Clinton was the clear favorite of Democratic Jewish voters, taking 62% of their vote to Obama’s 38%–a 24% gap in a state that she won by a 10% margin. (But was it because they were Jewish? Not necessarily: overwhelmingly white, Jews actually voted for Clinton in slightly lesser numbers than other Pennsylvanian whites, who voted Clinton 63%, Obama 37%). However, even in the best of scenarios for McCain, the implications of these numbers can’t be as positive as John would hope.
Consider this: At McCain’s happiest moment, about half of Clinton’s supporters weren’t sure if they were going to vote for Obama (it’s better for Obama now). So let’s assume that half the Jews who voted for Hillary in PA will now vote for McCain–and that all Jews who voted for Bush in 2004 will also go for McCain.
We don’t know the actual numbers, but I’ll follow your lead, John. 24% of PA Jews voted for Bush. So that’s 24% for McCain. Of the approximately 75% of Jews who voted for Kerry (assuming that these are Democratic-leaning voters), two-thirds (approximately 50%) preferred Clinton in the primaries, so we will give half of them (approximately 25%) to McCain. Add this imaginary 25% to the 24% we already alloted McCain, and you still don’t get to the 54% McCain got in the New York poll.
In sum: you have to engage in preposterously speculative acrobatics even to get close to the numbers of the NY poll. Even then, the chances that the Jewish vote will be the make-or-break vote for Obama in any state are very slim. In 2004, only 2% of PA voters were Jews. This means that only a huge shift in the Jewish vote can make a difference. It’s much easier to imagine a smaller shift in the larger white vote having a bigger effect.
And besides, why rely on such shaky polls when we have the much more reliable polls giving us a fairly clear picture: 60+% for Obama, 30+% for McCain. Excluding a highly unlikely political earthquake, this is how the Jews are going to vote.