Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jewish vote

Jewish Voters’ Support for Obama Dips

Yes, President Obama still dominates the Jewish vote, beating out Mitt Romney 64 percent to 39 percent, according to the newest Gallup poll. But considering that Obama racked up a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is a significant dip for him.

Among Jews, Obama’s current 64 percent to 29 percent advantage compares with a 74 percent to 23 percent advantage before the election in 2008. Thus, he is running 10 points lower among Jewish registered voters than in 2008, which is five points worse than his decline among all registered voters compared with 2008.

These numbers aren’t just notable because of what they say about Obama — the Republican Jewish Coalition notes that Mitt Romney’s 29 percent support would be “the highest level of Jewish support for a Republican presidential candidate in 24 years.”

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Yes, President Obama still dominates the Jewish vote, beating out Mitt Romney 64 percent to 39 percent, according to the newest Gallup poll. But considering that Obama racked up a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is a significant dip for him.

Among Jews, Obama’s current 64 percent to 29 percent advantage compares with a 74 percent to 23 percent advantage before the election in 2008. Thus, he is running 10 points lower among Jewish registered voters than in 2008, which is five points worse than his decline among all registered voters compared with 2008.

These numbers aren’t just notable because of what they say about Obama — the Republican Jewish Coalition notes that Mitt Romney’s 29 percent support would be “the highest level of Jewish support for a Republican presidential candidate in 24 years.”

Obama’s polling numbers with Jewish voters were at times lower than 64 percent during the 2008 election. But that was also before he cinched the Democratic nomination, and when Hillary Clinton was still in the race. Since 1992, Democratic presidential nominees averaged around 79 percent of the Jewish vote, according to the National Jewish Democratic Council. It would be a huge coup if Romney was actually able to capture 29 percent of the vote (John McCain won 21 percent in 2008).

And this may not be Obama’s only problem with Jewish voters. A new initiative called “I Vote Israel” is encouraging Americans living in Israel (Jews and non-Jews) to register and vote absentee in the upcoming election. According to the website, even American-Israelis who have never lived in the U.S. can vote if they are the children of U.S. citizens. As the website explains:

We are a diverse group of olim, recent arrivals as well as vatikim from all over the country who are deeply concerned about the safety, security and future of Israel. Most importantly, we want to see a president in the White House who will support and stand by Israel in absolute commitment to its safety, security and right to defend itself.

Since we believe that “there is no such thing as friends in politics, only interests,” we started thinking about how to be proactive about this. One fact that caught our eye was that while the 2000 Bush-Gore Presidential elections all came down to 537 absentee ballots cast in Florida, only 64 of those – out of the many thousands of Floridian-Israelis – were cast from Israel! More recently, the NY 9th Congressional District 2011 special elections (to replace Anthony Weiner) – a district with huge numbers of olim – were decided by just 2,000 votes, very few by absentee ballot from Israel. There are dozens more of such examples across the 50 states.

“I Vote Israel” reports that there are between 200,000 and 500,000 American citizens living in Israel — on the upper end of that range, that’s nearly as many as the number of Jewish voters in the entire state of Florida. These votes would be spread out through various states (the last state of residence — or parents’ residence — is where American-Israelis would be eligible to vote), but in certain states, particularly Florida, even a few thousand votes could have an impact. The effort is non-partisan, but as we know, Obama’s approval ratings among Israelis have ranged from unimpressive to dismal.

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Jews Liberal, But Obama Losing Ground

A poll conducted by the liberal Workmen’s Circle and published last week should reassure liberals that their views still predominate in the Jewish community, but it provided little comfort to those hoping President Obama can come anywhere near his 2008 share of the Jewish vote. The poll showed American Jews are far more liberal than most Americans. They are willing to pay higher taxes, don’t seem to like financial institutions, love unions and favor abortion and gay marriage in numbers that far outstrip the rest of the country. The respondents also give President Obama a big majority at a time when national polls are calling the presidential election a dead heat.

But despite the effort of the poll’s left-wing sponsor to treat this as a victory for the incumbent, it actually confirms the fact that the president is bleeding Jewish support this year and appears to be falling far short of the share of the community’s vote that he won in 2008. With the poll showing him getting only 59 percent of the Jewish vote as opposed to the 78 percent he received four years ago, there is no disguising a drastic decline in support for the Democrat.

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A poll conducted by the liberal Workmen’s Circle and published last week should reassure liberals that their views still predominate in the Jewish community, but it provided little comfort to those hoping President Obama can come anywhere near his 2008 share of the Jewish vote. The poll showed American Jews are far more liberal than most Americans. They are willing to pay higher taxes, don’t seem to like financial institutions, love unions and favor abortion and gay marriage in numbers that far outstrip the rest of the country. The respondents also give President Obama a big majority at a time when national polls are calling the presidential election a dead heat.

But despite the effort of the poll’s left-wing sponsor to treat this as a victory for the incumbent, it actually confirms the fact that the president is bleeding Jewish support this year and appears to be falling far short of the share of the community’s vote that he won in 2008. With the poll showing him getting only 59 percent of the Jewish vote as opposed to the 78 percent he received four years ago, there is no disguising a drastic decline in support for the Democrat.

The Workmen’s Circle attempts to soften the blow by saying if undecided voters broke down the same way decided voters did, it would give Obama a 68 to 32 percent lead among Jews. But that’s an absurd assertion. History shows us there is no reason to believe that is the way undecided voters actually vote. If anything, it is more likely that in a close race, undecideds are more likely to break toward the challenger, but that is merely a guess. But even if that wildly optimistic supposition were to be borne out, it would still represent a ten percent drop in the Jewish vote for Obama–a result that would have to be treated as a blow to the Democrats and a minor success for Republicans.

If, however, the final results turn out to be closer to the 59 percent figure, Obama would receive the lowest percentage of the Jewish vote in a presidential election of any Democrat since Jimmy Carter.

The pollsters insist, not without some reasons, that Israel does not appear to be a determining factor in the presidential vote. It bears repeating that the vast majority of Jews are not single issue voters on Israel and, like most Americans, will cast their votes based on other issues–principally, the economy.

The pollster’s analysis points out:

Significantly, neither attachment to Israel nor confidence in Israelis vs. Palestinians as peace seeking strongly factor into Jews’ presidential vote decision. This was among the findings of the survey regarding American Jewish attitudes toward Israel.

Obama voters and Romney voters do differ on Israel; Romney voters are more attached to Israel and more confident in Israel’s commitment to peace. However, these differences are totally explained by prior factors like religiosity and political ideology, than are the primary determinants of Obama vs. Romney preferences.

These are fair points but if, as the poll shows, the decline in Obama’s share of the Jewish vote is greater than the losses he is encountering in other sectors in national polls, analysts need to ponder what it is about the president that is repelling a higher proportion of Jewish supporters to abandon his ship than elsewhere. That is a question the Workmen’s Circle prefers not to ask, let alone answer.

Because, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, this otherwise heavily liberal population is still steadfast in its support for Israel as well as sympathetic to its current government, it is not unreasonable to suppose that those sentiments have led them to be, at the very least, a bit less favorable to a president who spent his first three years in office picking fights with Israel. Like the rest of the country, more Jews are disillusioned with the president’s handling of the economy, but is that enough to explain a potential loss of almost a quarter of the votes he received four years ago?

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What Do Israelis Know About Obama that American Jews Are Missing?

The Obama administration has been conducting an all-out charm offensive in recent months aimed at convincing American Jews that the president is Israel’s best friend. Polls have shown that the effort has not been enough to prevent a precipitous drop in his share of the prospective Jewish vote from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008. However, it will probably help him maintain a comfortable majority of Jewish votes in November as most of this predominantly liberal demographic is prepared to either ignore his past history of conflict with Israel or actually believes in the sincerity of his election-year conversion. But even as American Jews argue about Obama’s attitude toward Israel, the intended objects of the supposed solicitude continue to hold starkly different views about him.

A new Smith Research poll sponsored by the Jerusalem Post shows that although perceptions of Obama in Israel have improved in the last year, most Israelis don’t consider him much of a friend. The survey showed that 36 percent of Israelis believe Obama is neutral in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with 24 percent seeing him as pro-Palestinian and an equal number perceiving him as pro-Israel while 16 percent expressed no opinion. These numbers make one wonder what it is that the three quarters of Israelis who don’t see him as being in favor of their country know that the majority of American Jews who think he is pro-Israel haven’t figured out.

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The Obama administration has been conducting an all-out charm offensive in recent months aimed at convincing American Jews that the president is Israel’s best friend. Polls have shown that the effort has not been enough to prevent a precipitous drop in his share of the prospective Jewish vote from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008. However, it will probably help him maintain a comfortable majority of Jewish votes in November as most of this predominantly liberal demographic is prepared to either ignore his past history of conflict with Israel or actually believes in the sincerity of his election-year conversion. But even as American Jews argue about Obama’s attitude toward Israel, the intended objects of the supposed solicitude continue to hold starkly different views about him.

A new Smith Research poll sponsored by the Jerusalem Post shows that although perceptions of Obama in Israel have improved in the last year, most Israelis don’t consider him much of a friend. The survey showed that 36 percent of Israelis believe Obama is neutral in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with 24 percent seeing him as pro-Palestinian and an equal number perceiving him as pro-Israel while 16 percent expressed no opinion. These numbers make one wonder what it is that the three quarters of Israelis who don’t see him as being in favor of their country know that the majority of American Jews who think he is pro-Israel haven’t figured out.

The contrast between Israeli public opinion of the president and the views of American Jews is all the more startling when one realizes that these dismal numbers are actually a vast improvement for Obama over past polls conducted by the same firm. In the summer of 2009 after the first fight picked by the president with Israel and his Cairo speech to the Arab world in which he equated the plight of the Palestinians with the Holocaust, only 6 percent of Israelis saw him as their ally while 50 percent saw him as pro-Palestinian. Last year after his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he expressed support for the 1967 borders being the starting point for future Middle East negotiations, only 12 percent of Israelis saw him as pro-Israel.

While few American Jews are single issue voters and most consider liberal positions on domestic issues a higher priority than support for the Jewish state when choosing a president, Israelis are only focused on whether the resident of the White House is seeking to undermine their security or force them into unwanted and dangerous concessions. That’s why, although it is fair for Democrats to argue that Obama has not sought to unravel the U.S.-Israel security alliance, most Israelis still see the president as either neutral or hostile to their fate.

The opinions of Israelis ought not be dispositive to American voters on any issue. But those Democrats who will spend the year loudly proclaiming Obama to be Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House might want to take a moment and consider the fact that most of the people who they claim to support have a very different view of the question.

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Can Obama Make Up His Jewish Losses?

In today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky laments the fact that President Obama is running far behind his 2008 numbers with American Jewish voters. Given the unwillingness of most liberals to come to grips with the fact that far fewer Jewish voters are going to vote for the president this time around, such an acknowledgement is refreshing. Realizing that Obama’s current poll numbers with Jews show him 16 points behind the 78 percent he won in 2008, Tomasky admits it will be hard for him to make up that ground even if most Jews are not in love with the Republican option.

But the answer as to why these losses are unlikely to be made up and might even get bigger can be found in Tomasky’s column. Far from being convinced by speeches like the one the president delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, many understand that they saw the real Barack Obama earlier in his administration when he was going all out to do what left-wingers like Tomasky wanted him to do: pressure Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who don’t want peace. Even more to the point, they understand that the president’s desire to effect what Tomasky calls a “reset” of American policy toward Israel will return if he is re-elected.

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In today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky laments the fact that President Obama is running far behind his 2008 numbers with American Jewish voters. Given the unwillingness of most liberals to come to grips with the fact that far fewer Jewish voters are going to vote for the president this time around, such an acknowledgement is refreshing. Realizing that Obama’s current poll numbers with Jews show him 16 points behind the 78 percent he won in 2008, Tomasky admits it will be hard for him to make up that ground even if most Jews are not in love with the Republican option.

But the answer as to why these losses are unlikely to be made up and might even get bigger can be found in Tomasky’s column. Far from being convinced by speeches like the one the president delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, many understand that they saw the real Barack Obama earlier in his administration when he was going all out to do what left-wingers like Tomasky wanted him to do: pressure Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who don’t want peace. Even more to the point, they understand that the president’s desire to effect what Tomasky calls a “reset” of American policy toward Israel will return if he is re-elected.

Tomasky laments the fact that Obama’s speech to the AIPAC conference this year was a stark departure from the attitude demonstrated during the previous three years. That this is a far cry from the administration’s initial determination to put an end to what Tomasky calls “pro-Israel blindness,” is quite true. But the president’s cynical Jewish charm offensive isn’t likely to win back many disenchanted voters who know the difference between conviction and an election-year conversion.

Like Peter Beinart, whose foolish book he praises, Tomasky demonstrates no understanding of the real obstacle to Middle East peace. It isn’t an Israel, whose democratically elected government has accepted a two-state process; it’s the Palestinians who have shown repeatedly that they won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The question for Jewish Democrats who care about Israel is whether they believe Obama has truly learned from his past mistakes and understands that the U.S. must stand behind Israel against Hamas and Iran or, as Tomasky hopes, a second term will bring a rerun of Obama’s previous bouts of Israel-bashing.

As I wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, the majority of Jewish voters are partisan liberal Democrats and are unlikely to be moved to oppose their party’s nominee no matter what he does. But there is a critical mass of Jewish swing voters — whose numbers may exceed the 16 percent difference between Obama’s current level of Jewish support and his 2008 total — who are sufficiently disgusted with his overall performance and specifically concerned about his record on Israel to possibly vote for a moderate conservative alternative this fall.

Tomasky concludes by recycling the charge that Jewish concerns about Obama’s record on Israel are mainly based on fabrications about his background. Though this president, much like his predecessor, has been the victim of a number of slanders that emanated from the margins of the political spectrum, it is a grave mistake to think Jews suspect him because of false quotes from his autobiography. The reason why so many Jews have abandoned Obama is the same reason why leftists like Tomasky support him: they think a re-elected Obama will have the “flexibility” to turn on Israel.

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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.

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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.

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J Street Spin Can’t Obscure Obama’s Jewish Vote Troubles

The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.

Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.

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The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.

Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.

One of the main fallacies in Gerstein’s memo seems to be his assertion that the Republicans are unlikely to do better in 2012 with Jewish voters than they did in their 2010 midterm landslide. Gerstein rightly says that the Democrats held most of the Jewish vote in 2010 even as they were getting slaughtered nationally. But the 2010 ballot was largely a referendum on Obama’s domestic policies like ObamaCare that were far more popular among Jews than among the general population. The presidential vote this year will provide pro-Israel Jewish moderates and Democrats an opportunity to register their dismay at Obama’s attitude toward Israel prior to his re-election campaign. Though he attempts to ignore data that contradicts his predictions, such as the Pew Research Study that showed a dramatic decline in Jewish affiliation toward the Democrats in the last four years, the administration’s obvious concern about the Jewish vote this year belies Gerstein’s false optimism on this score.

Gerstein is right when he says that Democrats retain the almost blind loyalty of a majority of American Jews. As I write in my feature in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Jews, Money and 2012,” there is virtually nothing Obama could do or say in the next eight months that would cause him to get less than 50-60 percent of the Jewish vote. But the difference between that base line and the 78 percent he got in 2008 is very much up for grabs. Though those numbers may not be enormous, contrary to Gerstein’s argument, they are enough to make a difference in a number of crucial states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

President Obama’s fortunes are on the upswing due to slightly better economic numbers and the fallout from a bitter Republican primary battle. But it’s a long way to November, and the standoff with Iran and the president’s willingness to back up his talk on the nuclear question with action, will have a major impact on the Jewish vote this year. The potential for a significant drop off from Obama’s 78 percent — especially if the GOP nominates a candidate not identified with the Christian right — is something that more realistic Democratic sources than J Street and Gerstein are right to take very seriously.

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