As I’ve noted before, just about every poll taken in the last year shows that President Obama is likely to lose ground among Jewish voters when compared to his performance in 2008. That’s also the finding of a new American Jewish Committee poll of Jewish voters in Florida. But while, as JTA notes, both Republicans and Democrats have sought to spin the numbers as good news for their side, in this case President Obama’s supporters have the stronger case.
The poll shows that the president leads Mitt Romney by a 69-25 percentage-point margin with five percent undecided. That is less than the 74-78 percent of the Jewish vote Obama got in 2008. But it is far less of a decrease than other polls have shown. More to the point, if these results hold up, it is not enough of a shift to be considered large enough to help swing the state if Florida turns out to be close. For that to happen, the GOP needs to hold Obama closer to 60 percent than 70 and get Romney up over the 30 percent margin. The drop in Obama’s support is explained by the answers to poll questions that show the positions of the majority of Jewish voters on topics like Israel and Iran to be significantly different from those of the administration. But those issues don’t appear to be enough to convince enough Jewish Democrats and independents to forsake the president in favor of Romney.
The poll illustrates something we already knew. The vast majority of Jewish voters identify with the Democratic Party and are more liberal than the rest of the population. Though the Democrats hold on the Jewish vote is, as a Pew survey proved, slipping, the gap between the parties is still not close.
There is also some cognitive dissonance at play here. While a majority of those polled support the president’s handling of relations with Israel, an even larger majority approve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and support an Israeli attack on Iran that the president has worked harder to prevent than he has to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Clearly some of those who back Israel haven’t connected the dots between the candidates’ positions on the issues and their own.
But while the decline in Jewish support for Obama in this survey is enough to support, as do other polls, the conclusion that the president’s stand on Israel has hurt him, it is still only a marginal rather than a decisive shift. Indeed, if Obama can still wind up getting 70 percent of the Jewish vote after years of Israel-bashing and a clear determination not to act on the Iranian nuclear threat, then it must be conceded that other issues, such as the Democrats’ class warfare attack on Romney or the fake “war on women,” means more to Jewish voters than Israel.
It should be noted, as with other polls, that this poll’s credibility rests on its sample. In this case, the overall sample is not large, consisting as it does of only 254 registered voters. More to the point, it may undercount the Orthodox, who tend to be more conservative and Republican than other Jews, since it shows that they are only three percent of the total, a number that may be low even for Florida.
That said, Jewish Democrats have good reason to be encouraged by this poll. As for the GOP, it shows they need to keep hammering away on Israel and Iran — points that are being made in ad buys in Florida targeting Jewish voters — if they hope to succeed in November.
The American Jewish Committee has now belatedly released the margin of error for this survey as being six percent. While earlier I pointed out that the sample size for this poll was small and that it may have undercounted Orthodox Jews, having such a big margin of error seriously undermines its credibility. This means that President Obama’s share of the Florida Jewish vote could be as low here as 63 percent (as well as being as high as 75 percent). That should calm the nerves of some Republicans who had to be perplexed by the results as well as cause Democrats to restrain their glee. But it should also encourage the GOP to redouble their efforts in this sector since, as I wrote, the breakdown on issues like Israel and Iran ought to give some room for Romney to gain ground at the president’s expense.