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How Soft is Obama’s Jewish Support?

The debate of whether and by how much President Obama’s Jewish support has declined has heated up in the wake of his May ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The latest poll of Jewish opinion supports the notion he is slipping, but leaves open the question of by how much. The poll (h/t to COMMENTARY contributor Tevi Troy at the National Review), conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for the SecureAmericaNow.org group, provides an in-depth view of Jewish opinions on a variety of issues. But due to the open-ended nature of certain questions, the poll cannot serve as definitive proof of a significant shift in Jewish voting patterns.

Pollsters asked 600 likely American Jewish voters, “Would you vote to re-elect Barack Obama as president or would you consider voting for someone else?” Only 43 percent answered they would vote for Obama, while 48 percent said they would consider another candidate. Perhaps after decades of Democrats winning the Jewish vote by landslide proportions, such a response ought to encourage Republicans, since slightly less than half of likely Jewish voters would even “consider” an alternative to the incumbent. But this is a long way from a result that shows Obama actually losing the Jewish vote. It says something about the rabidly partisan nature of Jewish Democrats that 43 percent of all likely voters would not even “consider” the possibility of casting a ballot for someone other than the president. Yet Democrats shouldn’t laugh too hard about these figures or other results from this survey.

The data reveals that the vast majority of American Jews still care a great deal about Israel and are concerned about its security and the threats to its existence—threats from Iran, as well as from Arab countries and terrorist groups. Large majorities disapprove of pressures on Israel to return to its 1967 borders or to divide Jerusalem. They worry about terrorism at home and terrorism directed toward Israel. Contrary to the positions of many American Jewish groups, 58 percent oppose the building of a mosque near the site of Ground Zero in New York City. More ominously for Democrats, only 26 percent said they thought Obama favored Israel versus the Palestinians.

But the news isn’t all bad for the Democrats. The poll indicates a large majority of Jews believe Obama is doing a good job—both overall and in terms of defense and security policies. Even more encouraging for Democrats, 75 percent still rank economic and social issues as their top priorities, positions that make it difficult for the GOP to leverage Obama’s record on Israel as a wedge issue. Nevertheless, given the perilous state of the economy, the Jewish vote may be in play–concerns about Israel notwithstanding.

Even if you take the “would you consider” question about support for Obama with a shovelful of salt, it must be admitted that Obama’s Jewish backing appears soft at best. While the fights he has picked with Israel’s government may not convince a majority of Jews to vote for the GOP, it will probably influence enough votes to diminish his final numbers. Next year, if Republicans nominate a candidate not linked to the Christian right, then the 48 percent not committed to Obama will be taken more seriously. Either way, it will be difficult for the president to even approach the smashing 77 percent of Jewish voters who chose him in 2008.