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Israel Policy to Blame if Obama Loses Jewish Votes

Earlier today, Seth commented on the results from a poll conducted by the liberal-leaning Public Religion Research Institute that contained some mixed results for the Obama administration. As Seth noted, the survey showed that even among a liberal population, the president didn’t find broad support for his policies on Israel. But, predictably, the New York Times is spinning the poll in a very different way. The headline in the paper’s political blog The Caucus is simply: “In Poll, Jewish Voters Overwhelmingly Support Obama.” The Times reports that it finds:

Support for Mr. Obama is still higher among Jews than among the general electorate, with 62 percent of Jewish voters saying they would like to see him elected, and 30 percent saying they preferred the Republican candidate.

The Times interprets this result as meaning:

The results cast doubt on the claim that Mr. Obama has alienated a significant swath of Jewish voters because of his rocky relationship with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

But does it really? Considering the president won a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, even if he does wind up getting 62 percent that would mean a loss of a fifth of the Jewish support he got four years ago.

To place this result in perspective, it should be remembered that it has been 24 years since a Republican got as much as 30 percent of the Jewish vote. If Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee, equals or tops that figure while the Democrats’ share declines that far, Jewish Republicans would consider it a major victory. Moreover, as I pointed out in the March issue of COMMENTARY, such a swing of Jewish votes could conceivably make a difference in determining the outcome of the election should states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and especially Florida go down to the wire.

If Obama does lose a fifth of his Jewish support when compared to four years ago, what other explanation can there be for such a result other than the fact that many Jewish Democrats are rightly concerned about the administration’s policy of hostility toward Israel during its first three years? While the current Jewish charm offensive may help shore up the president’s backing in this overwhelmingly Democratic demographic, if this poll is correct and the Republicans make such large gains, the most likely reason for a shift in the Jewish vote would be Israel.  Indeed, given the fact that the poll shows Jews having grave doubts about Obama’s attitude toward Israel, the idea that it would not be responsible for the shrinkage of the Democrats’ share of the Jewish vote makes no sense.

While there is no doubt there is virtually nothing Obama could do to prevent the majority of Jews from voting for him, even this liberal poll illustrates that Democrats are going into the fall with much lower expectations than they might have had four years ago.