There’s been a lot of debate about just how much Jewish support Barack Obama is going to lose this year. But other than some truth-challenged blind partisans like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, few have challenged the assertion that the president is likely to get fewer Jewish votes in November than he did in 2008. The only question his how much of a drop off can we expect?
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life gave us another clue today when it released a graphic showing a marked decline in Jews identifying as Democrats over the past four years. In 2008, 72 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats or as leaning toward the party while only 20 percent were linked to the GOP. In 2012, those numbers have gone to 66 percent for the Democrats and 28 percent for the Republicans. If the presidential vote reflected party affiliation, that would mean the president is certain to lose significant ground from 2008, when his share of the Jewish group has been estimated to be from 74-78 percent (Democrats claimed 78 percent four years ago but now say the number was smaller)–though not as big a drop as some surveys have seemed to indicate. Nevertheless, this is important since it is likely that many voters, especially Jews who have historic ties to the party, might be willing to vote against President Obama while still calling themselves Democrats. But no matter how you slice it, this seems to set Democrats up for their worst showing among Jews since 1988.
There are a couple of interesting points to be gleaned from the Pew survey.
The first is something that has been noted about other polls that break down the potential presidential vote by ethnicity and religion. Though the president seems likely to lose ground from the better than 53 percent of the total vote he received in 2008, his losses among Jews are greater than those in any other group. Given that it is impossible to argue that Jews are more likely to dislike his economic policies or his health care bill more than any other religious or ethnic groups, the only possible explanation for this decline is his policy toward Israel. Dissatisfaction with the president’s problematic relationship with Israel — highlighted again last week as he snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and refused to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program — is the most likely explanation for an otherwise puzzlingly high rate of disaffection on the part of Jewish Democrats.
The other is that the current numbers actually show a slight improvement for the president since 2010 when the margin between the two parties was actually smaller, with a 63-31 percent gap between Democrats and the GOP. Clearly, Democrats have gained ground all across the board since their midterm debacle. The boost for the Democrats could also reflect some minimal success for the administration’s Jewish charm offensive that seemed to have affected their Middle East policies until the latest dustup between Obama and Netanyahu.
These numbers are by no means conclusive, and there’s no telling whether the president might continue to gain ground among wavering Democrats and independents in the coming weeks. But these results also show that it is entirely possible that the president’s share of the Jewish vote may turn out to be on the low end of the range of possible outcomes rather than, as Democrats have argued, on the high side.
Indeed, since there is still a stigma in some Jewish quarters about openly expressing support for conservatism or the Republican Party, it may be that the Jewish vote for Obama may turn out to be much lower than the figure for affiliation. If so, that will be a signal victory for the GOP and help change the outcome of the election in closely fought states like Florida or Ohio.