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Arguing About the Jewish Vote

At the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner takes me to task for “manipulating the facts” in a post I wrote yesterday about the Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll of the presidential race. What facts did I “manipulate”? Just this: I reported that the poll’s breakdown of voters by religion showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney by a 59-35 percent margin with 6 percent undecided. But Rosner doesn’t say I falsified the numbers. His criticism is that I didn’t ignore them.

According to Rosner, the sample size of the poll is too small for any statistics about the admittedly tiny percentage of the voting public that is Jewish to be meaningful. That’s a fair point and I should have noted that the sample here, as in just about any poll that is not focused only on Jews, is pretty small and might not be accurate. But it is significant that even this small sample seems to reflect the same trend that other larger and perhaps (or perhaps not) more reliable polls have consistently shown for the last year: Barack Obama is going to get far fewer Jewish votes than he got in 2008. To deny that, as some of the president’s Jewish cheering section has been urging us to do, is absurd.

Rosner also says I’m wrong to cite the figure of 78 percent as being Obama’s percentage of the Jewish vote in 2008. He says it was 74 percent. He might be right, as exit polls are far from exact. You never know whether people are telling canvassers the truth about how they voted and several times in recent history the actual results have been quite different than what the exit polls said they would be. But the initial reports from national exit polling done on Election Day four years ago was 78 percent. Indeed, that is the number that the National Jewish Democratic Council trumpeted in their triumphal post-election press release. It is also still the number published by the reference site Jewish Virtual Library. Of course, in contrast to 2008, Democrats are eager these days to lower estimates of Obama’s vote rather than to inflate it since it will cushion the blow this fall when he winds up with a far lower percentage of Jewish support than last time.

Rosner also assumes that Obama will get more than 59 percent of the vote and chides me for assuming that’s the number he will get, even though all I did was to speculate that he will likely not wind up with all of the undecided voters and might get a result closer to that number than to the 64 percent of Jewish votes that Michael Dukakis got in 1988.

Perhaps Obama will equal Dukakis’s total or slightly better it. My point was not to harp so much on the 59 percent figure but to point out that any result in that vicinity or even the number Dukakis would get constitutes the worst result among Jews for a Democrat in 24 years. As it happens, a Gallup poll of Jewish voters conducted in July showed Obama doing no better than Dukakis. And since Jewish polling in the last year has consistently shown that this is a very real possibility, it’s hard to take claims of “manipulation” seriously. No matter how you slice it, unless there is a dramatic shift in the president’s direction, the result will be a historic decline for the Democrats that will (if you assume he’ll get 64 percent this year and got only 78 percent in 2008) see him lose at least 14 percent off the total he got four years ago.

As I’ve written about some of those other polls in the past months, the main point to be gleaned from them is not so much the absolute totals but the same one I discussed yesterday. No matter how much you soft-pedal Obama’s decline in Jewish support, the only explanation for it that makes any sense is concern over Israel. That is the only conceivable reason why Jewish voters, no matter how large or small the sample, have consistently shown a greater willingness to desert the president than any other ethnic or religious group.



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