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Topic: exit polls

GOP Jewish Gains Illustrate Their Problem

The Republican Jewish Coalition released the exit polls they took yesterday and declared victory in the presidential contest. President Obama won re-election, but his share of the Jewish vote in the RJC poll was 68 percent–down from the 78 percent that he received in 2008. Mitt Romney received approximately 32 percent of Jewish ballots, a figure that is about 10 percent more than the paltry 22 percent won by John McCain. Democrats may dispute these figures, but they roughly conform to the results obtained in the national exit poll taken by CNN. Two questions arise out of a careful look at these numbers.

First, what was the primary cause of this rise in the GOP vote? Second, and perhaps even more important, is whether Republicans really ought to be celebrating this result as much as the RJC says they should. The obvious answer to the first question is President Obama’s fractious relationship with the state of Israel. The answer to the second is more complicated. Though Republicans are right to see these numbers as evidence of the incremental progress they’ve made since the party bottomed out among Jews in 1992, they should also be asking themselves if they will ever again have an opportunity to do as well as they did this year.

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The Republican Jewish Coalition released the exit polls they took yesterday and declared victory in the presidential contest. President Obama won re-election, but his share of the Jewish vote in the RJC poll was 68 percent–down from the 78 percent that he received in 2008. Mitt Romney received approximately 32 percent of Jewish ballots, a figure that is about 10 percent more than the paltry 22 percent won by John McCain. Democrats may dispute these figures, but they roughly conform to the results obtained in the national exit poll taken by CNN. Two questions arise out of a careful look at these numbers.

First, what was the primary cause of this rise in the GOP vote? Second, and perhaps even more important, is whether Republicans really ought to be celebrating this result as much as the RJC says they should. The obvious answer to the first question is President Obama’s fractious relationship with the state of Israel. The answer to the second is more complicated. Though Republicans are right to see these numbers as evidence of the incremental progress they’ve made since the party bottomed out among Jews in 1992, they should also be asking themselves if they will ever again have an opportunity to do as well as they did this year.

As for the cause of a nearly 20-percent swing in the Jewish vote since 2008, it is difficult to argue that Israel was not a key factor in explaining the change in the last four years. Though liberals will point out that President Obama lost ground with virtually all demographic groups except for African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters, the gap between the nearly 10 points he lost among Jews and what may turn out to be about a three-percent drop in his overall vote total in 2008 requires an explanation. Since it is highly unlikely that a generally liberal Jewish community was more perturbed by the economy, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that four years of battle between the president and the government of Israel took a toll on Obama’s share of the Jewish vote.

The five- to six-percentage point difference between his overall decline and the ground he lost among Jews is easily understood as the product of the fights Obama picked and the questions his conduct raised among pro-Israel voters about his trustworthiness. While a small percentage of the Jewish vote, it is still a sign that a significant number of Jewish Democrats cared deeply about the issue. Though few Jews consider Israel the No. 1 issue at stake yesterday, the RJC poll reported that 76.5 percent of the respondents consider Israel to be either “very important” (30.2 percent) or “fairly important” (46.3 percent). And that seemed to be reflected in the poll in which 22.8 percent said Obama was “pro-Palestinian” and 17.4 said he was just neutral.

By posting a 50-percent gain over what McCain received, the RJC can claim a moral victory of sorts. It can also credibly assert that with its ad campaigns aimed at Jewish voters, it is building its brand and increasing market share in the community. The 31-32 percent Romney got also marks the highest total for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. That’s nothing to sneeze at and should, at least in theory, scare Democrats into thinking that they are on the wrong end of a trend that could ultimately start to make even more serious inroads into their longtime near-monopoly of the Jewish vote, especially when you consider that Republicans continue to do best among Orthodox Jews, the fastest growing sector of the community.

Those who will argue that the RJC didn’t get much in return for the prodigious effort they made with Jewish voters should take into consideration that the Democrats took this threat seriously. Not only did they campaign hard to defend Obama’s record on Israel in the last year, with extravagant and inaccurate praise of him as the Jewish state’s best friend to ever sit in the White House, the president noticeably adjusted his policies as part of an election-year Jewish charm offensive. Without it, it’s probably the case that Democratic losses would have been much greater.

But the GOP shouldn’t be celebrating too loudly.

The problem with looking at the 2012 results as part of an upward trend for Republicans is that this election was a unique opportunity to win Jewish votes that may not be replicated again for many years.

For more than thirty years, Jewish Republicans have looked to the 1980 election, in which Ronald Reagan set the modern record for the GOP share of the Jewish vote with 39 percent. In that period, they have searched for another Reagan who could do as well. They have found that even when their nominee was considered an even more ardent friend of Israel than the Gipper — as George W. Bush was when he ran for re-election in 2004 — they still fell far short of their goal.

Their problem was that they were looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead of another Reagan, what they needed was someone to play the role of Jimmy Carter, the president whose antagonism to Israel set in motion the 1980 exodus of Jewish voters to the GOP. That’s exactly what they got in Obama.

If, as RJC leaders Matt Brooks and Ari Fleischer insisted on a teleconference with the press about the poll today, it was unfair to expect a party to do better than the 10 percent gains they got yesterday, it must still be observed that they are highly unlikely to be presented with as inviting a target four years from now. Indeed, if a Republican couldn’t do better than 32 percent with Obama as an opponent, it’s likely they will lose ground rather than gain more if they are presented with a Democrat who is demonstrably more sympathetic to Israel than the president.

While the growth of the Orthodox community gives the RJC some hope, their encouraging 2012 results are really just more proof of their intractable problem: convincing an overwhelmingly liberal group to vote for Republicans.

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The Last Ditch of GOP Optimism

Conservatives have spent much of the last few weeks expressing skepticism about polls that showed President Obama winning the election. Democrats claimed this was merely a case of premature sour grapes. But that disbelief, which I shared, was rooted in a reasonable argument. Most polls showing Obama ahead had samples that showed an electorate that seemed to match the 2008 turnout model, in which the Democrats had a large advantage in partisan identification. It seemed highly unlikely that the Democrats could maintain that lead after four dispiriting years of the Obama administration. Surely, they reasoned, the partisan split would be a lot more even in 2012, and polls with more balanced samples showed Romney ahead.

Yet the exit polls currently being discussed on the networks’ elections coverage are showing a turnout model remarkably similar to 2008. That makes the polls look smart and those that staked their reputations on them — like the New York Times’s Nate Silver — even smarter.

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Conservatives have spent much of the last few weeks expressing skepticism about polls that showed President Obama winning the election. Democrats claimed this was merely a case of premature sour grapes. But that disbelief, which I shared, was rooted in a reasonable argument. Most polls showing Obama ahead had samples that showed an electorate that seemed to match the 2008 turnout model, in which the Democrats had a large advantage in partisan identification. It seemed highly unlikely that the Democrats could maintain that lead after four dispiriting years of the Obama administration. Surely, they reasoned, the partisan split would be a lot more even in 2012, and polls with more balanced samples showed Romney ahead.

Yet the exit polls currently being discussed on the networks’ elections coverage are showing a turnout model remarkably similar to 2008. That makes the polls look smart and those that staked their reputations on them — like the New York Times’s Nate Silver — even smarter.

But the only problem with this is that exit polls are notoriously inaccurate. They also tend to favor Democrats. If you don’t believe that truism, just ask President John Kerry, who believed the exit polls that said he won the 2004 election before President George W. Bush was re-elected.

But the question is how inaccurate the exit polls are this year. Even if they are off by a bit, if they are somewhat close to the actual totals, that is very bad news for Mitt Romney. While the night is still young, the last ditch of Republican optimism is based on disbelief in the exit polls. Like the skepticism about the pre-election polls, this is not an unreasonable position. But the exits are going to have to be off by a lot in order for Romney to be the next president.

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White House Wisconsin Spin Won’t Wash

Given the decisive nature of Scott Walker’s recall victory, it’s not likely that Democrats who were prepared to cry foul if they lost in a squeaker will be talking about a “stolen election” after he won with 53 percent of the vote. Instead, the main Democratic talking point in the days after their recall debacle will be to claim that not only is it not a harbinger of more defeats in November but that it may not even have an impact on how Wisconsin will vote for president. Democrats were encouraged by exit polls that showed President Obama holding a big lead over Mitt Romney among recall voters. However, any liberal enthusiasm about the finding is bound to be diminished by the fact those polls were obviously skewed toward Democrats because the 50-50 split they predicted on the recall was disastrously wrong.

But the White House spin that the recall will have no impact on what happens in the fall is not just wrong because of the faulty exit polls. After months of attempts to interpret Republican and Democratic primary results in terms of their predictive value for a general election, Wisconsin didn’t just provide the country with its first partisan matchup of the year. It was the most bitterly contested state election in years, with money pouring in on both sides from around the country. And rather than being a test of personalities as most elections generally prove to be, the attempt by the unions and their liberal allies to take Walker’s scalp as revenge for his legislative achievements provided the country with a clear ideological battle. In a straightforward battle between liberals and conservatives, the latter won in a state that President Obama carried by 14 points in 2008. Anyone who thinks Obama isn’t in for the fight of his life there this year just isn’t paying attention.

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Given the decisive nature of Scott Walker’s recall victory, it’s not likely that Democrats who were prepared to cry foul if they lost in a squeaker will be talking about a “stolen election” after he won with 53 percent of the vote. Instead, the main Democratic talking point in the days after their recall debacle will be to claim that not only is it not a harbinger of more defeats in November but that it may not even have an impact on how Wisconsin will vote for president. Democrats were encouraged by exit polls that showed President Obama holding a big lead over Mitt Romney among recall voters. However, any liberal enthusiasm about the finding is bound to be diminished by the fact those polls were obviously skewed toward Democrats because the 50-50 split they predicted on the recall was disastrously wrong.

But the White House spin that the recall will have no impact on what happens in the fall is not just wrong because of the faulty exit polls. After months of attempts to interpret Republican and Democratic primary results in terms of their predictive value for a general election, Wisconsin didn’t just provide the country with its first partisan matchup of the year. It was the most bitterly contested state election in years, with money pouring in on both sides from around the country. And rather than being a test of personalities as most elections generally prove to be, the attempt by the unions and their liberal allies to take Walker’s scalp as revenge for his legislative achievements provided the country with a clear ideological battle. In a straightforward battle between liberals and conservatives, the latter won in a state that President Obama carried by 14 points in 2008. Anyone who thinks Obama isn’t in for the fight of his life there this year just isn’t paying attention.

It is true that the size of Walker’s victory was in no small measure the result of moderate disgust at a union vendetta that was rightly seen as an attempt to override the verdict of the voters in 2010. Some of those who cast ballots for Walker may wind up drifting back to the Democrats in November to back President Obama. Yet the Democratic defeat — and the widespread dismay by liberals at the way the president gave the recall his half-hearted support will have repercussions for his party.

Walker’s win is just one more of a string of recent events that are starting to convince the nation that Obama is likely to be a one-term president. Along with the growing list of economic statistics that make a summer economic recovery unlikely, the stunning conservative victory in Wisconsin will make it harder for the president to claim that Republican solutions are unpopular or that support for entitlement reform is a sign of extremism.

Instead of merely a local political fight that got national coverage, the failed recall may prove to be a decisive moment in an election that looked only a few months ago to be the president’s to lose. Though five months is a lifetime in politics, Wisconsin could be the moment when Mitt Romney’s campaign moves into overdrive and the rickety nature of the Obama re-election effort becomes manifest. The presidential election wasn’t won in Wisconsin on June 5, but the recall may be best remembered in the future as the tipping point that transformed Obama from a likely winner to an incumbent headed to one-term status.

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Michigan Exit Polls: Dems May Be Decisive

Earlier today we were speculating about the impact of Democrats participating in the Republican primary in Michigan. Would Democrats vote for Rick Santorum as part of a dirty trick in order to promote a less electable Republican, as Mitt Romney seemed to be claiming? Or would these crossovers be legitimate Reagan Democrats who like Santorum’s stands on social issues as well as expressing working class disdain for a swell like Romney? Or would, as Romney hopes, more moderate independents and Democrats prefer him to a candidate whose views on abortion, gays and contraception are considered extreme?

We don’t know the answer to that question but it is clear that whatever their motivation, Michigan Democrats and independents are going to have a disproportionate impact on a crucial Republican contest. The New York Times reports exit polls show that 10 percent of those voting today in Michigan are Democrats. It also says that irrespective of party affiliation, six in ten consider themselves conservative while 30 percent say they are very conservative and another thirty percent say they are moderate. In theory that is a picture of an electorate that might be more sympathetic to Santorum.

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Earlier today we were speculating about the impact of Democrats participating in the Republican primary in Michigan. Would Democrats vote for Rick Santorum as part of a dirty trick in order to promote a less electable Republican, as Mitt Romney seemed to be claiming? Or would these crossovers be legitimate Reagan Democrats who like Santorum’s stands on social issues as well as expressing working class disdain for a swell like Romney? Or would, as Romney hopes, more moderate independents and Democrats prefer him to a candidate whose views on abortion, gays and contraception are considered extreme?

We don’t know the answer to that question but it is clear that whatever their motivation, Michigan Democrats and independents are going to have a disproportionate impact on a crucial Republican contest. The New York Times reports exit polls show that 10 percent of those voting today in Michigan are Democrats. It also says that irrespective of party affiliation, six in ten consider themselves conservative while 30 percent say they are very conservative and another thirty percent say they are moderate. In theory that is a picture of an electorate that might be more sympathetic to Santorum.

The Times also raises an interesting point about the dirty trick allegation. The paper’s Alison Kopicki points out that Romney claimed to have voted in the Democratic Presidential Primary in Massachusetts in 1992. Romney, at that time an independent, has said he cast a ballot for Paul Tsongas because he was the weakest Democrat in the race which is the same thing he is accusing Democrats of doing today. He’d better hope that most of those Democrats voting today are not making an effort to help their party beat the GOP.

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