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Jewish Democrats Face a Curious Dilemma

Josh Nathan-Kazis of the Forward brings to our attention a Siena College poll of New York voters that adds a little more fuel to the fire about whether President Obama is losing ground among Jewish voters. The poll, which provides a breakdown by religion, shows the president is only leading Republican Mitt Romney by a 51-43 percent margin among New York Jews. Considering that Obama has a lopsided 59-35 percent edge among all voters, the poll seems to confirm the much discussed results of the new demographic survey of Jewish life in Greater New York which shows the traditional stereotype of Jews as secular liberals is heading for the dustbin of history.

This does illustrate how solidly blue New York is, as the decline in support for Obama in a group that has traditionally been among the most loyal to the Democrats is having no effect on the president’s chances of winning the state. But it does tell us that, despite the Democrats’ claim the GOP is blowing smoke about making gains in the Jewish vote this year, Obama is in serious trouble among Jews. The question the president’s supporters have to be asking themselves after reading this poll is how different New York Jews are from those in the rest of the country, especially swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the Jewish vote could be crucial in a tight election.

Democrats can comfort themselves by pointing out that if, as the population study showed, 40 percent of all Jews in New York City are Orthodox, then that is bound to produce a result that will not be replicated elsewhere. Orthodox Jews, a group far more conservative and more likely to vote Republican than the non-Orthodox, make up a much smaller percentage of the community in most other places in the country. Therefore, it can be argued that the New York results don’t indicate a general shift among Jews away from Obama or to the right.

Even if we were to assume these numbers are isolated to New York, it confirms the conclusions we drew last week that the demographic changes wrought both by assimilation and intermarriage among the non-Orthodox and the Orthodox population growth represents the beginning of the end for liberal Jewry as a dominant political force both in New York and nationally.

Nevertheless, even though the Orthodox are not as numerous in Florida or Pennsylvania, they are growing there too, which means the assumption that Obama will romp among Jews with margins anywhere close to the 78 percent he won nationally in 2008 is probably mistaken.

Even if we discount for the Orthodox effect (who even in New York City, let alone the rest of the state, make up less than half of the Jewish population), this shows Obama is bleeding Jewish support. Nathan-Kazis believes it shows Jews are just following the same trend among the general population, because the uptick for Romney is mirrored there. Maybe. But if Jews are no longer liberal outliers, that in of itself is news. And that is something that could lead to Obama having a historically poor showing among Jewish voters that could rival that of Jimmy Carter in 1980.

What all this means is the Jewish Democrats will have a choice after November. They can blame the president’s poor showing among Jews on demography and thereby concede it is only a matter of time before the GOP will compete on even terms for Jewish votes. Or they can blame it on the president’s attitude toward Israel — a factor about which they have been in denial for the past four years — and claim Democrats with better records on the issue will not have the same problem in the future. It’s an interesting dilemma, and I look forward to learning how they will answer it.


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