Though Democrats have been working hard trying to put a positive spin on polls showing declining support for President Obama even among Jewish voters who identify disproportionately as both liberals and Democrats, the latest and most comprehensive such survey gives the lie to the notion all is well for the Democrats. The American Jewish Committee’s 2011 Annual Survey of Jewish Opinion showed the number of Jews who approved of Obama’s job performance dropping precipitously since just last year. Currently, 48 percent disapprove of Obama with only 46 percent approving. That’s a drop of over 10 percent since last year when 57 percent approved of the president.
That sets up the possibility of a drastic drop in the Jewish vote for the Democrats next year. The AJC survey also showed that when matched up against Mitt Romney, only 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for the president. Considering Obama won close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this raises the possibility of a modern historic low for the Democrats that might rival Jimmy Carter’s poor showing in 1980.
As to what’s causing Obama’s decline, Democrats have argued in recent weeks Jewish opinion of the president is merely mirroring the collapse of his numbers throughout the country. But that can hardly be good news for Obama. Though Jews, like the rest of the electorate are most unhappy about Obama’s performance on the economy, a clear majority — 53 percent–also disapprove of his handling of Israel-U.S. relations. That figure represents an increase from 45 percent who were upset about his stance toward Israel last year. As the results from the special election in the heavily Jewish New York 9th congressional district showed, the belief Obama cannot be trusted to stand by Israel is providing the GOP with some traction among Jewish voters.
Though Obama’s 50-32 percent advantage over Romney would still guarantee him a majority, that means Romney has a shot at a share of the Jewish vote that would be the highest since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 total of 39 percent. Though a decline in Jewish campaign contributions might be more decisive than a shift in the Jewish vote, that might be crucial in states like Florida or Pennsylvania if the election is close. The caveat for the Republicans is that in order to take advantage of Obama’s weakness, they’ll have to nominate someone who doesn’t scare off moderate Jewish voters. When matched up against cultural conservatives like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, Obama does much better. He beats Perry 55-25 and Bachmann 59-19.
As to the issues, the AJC survey also shows despite the claims of leftist groups like J Street, American Jewish opinion remains solidly behind Israel in its confrontation with the Palestinians and the Arab world. A solid majority approves of the Netanyahu government’s handling of Israel-U.S. relations and opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state or a re-division of Jerusalem. More than three quarters — 76 percent — agree with the statement that “the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.” And an only slightly smaller number think Congress should withdraw U.S. aid to the Palestinians if the Palestinian Authority and Hamas form a unity government. Such views clearly reflect that Obama’s longstanding effort to distance the United States from Israel and pressure Israel to accommodate the Palestinians is not supported by most Jews.
Despite questions about the GOP, the survey proves Obama and the Democrats can’t take the Jewish vote for granted next year. While a decisive shift will depend on the ability of the Republican candidate to show voters he is not a cultural warrior, the notion this community is abandoning Israel or supporting administration pressure on the Jewish state is a myth promoted by leftists who have lost touch with public opinion both here and in Israel.