Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gallup

Obama and More Republican Jews

For decades some Republicans have been predicting that the Democrats’ stranglehold on the Jewish vote was coming to an end. So it’s understandable if the Gallup poll released on Tuesday showing a shift in the number of Jews identifying as Democrats or Republicans will encourage the GOP continue its efforts to build support in that community. Nevertheless, more objective observers will be forgiven for being less enthusiastic. The results showed that at the end of 2014, 61 percent of Jews are Democrats and 29 percent Republicans. That’s a shift from only seven years ago when the figures showed the margin to be 71 to 22 percent in favor of the Democrats. But that still gives the Democrats a huge edge among Jews. Assuming that these trends hold steady, it would mean that Republicans could expect to have bare a majority of the Jewish vote in another 21 years. That won’t help their 2016 candidates much, but the question about whether they can really hope to keep gaining ground among Jews depends on which is the more decisive factor in determining Jewish political affiliation: demographic trends leading to a more Orthodox population or Barack Obama.

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For decades some Republicans have been predicting that the Democrats’ stranglehold on the Jewish vote was coming to an end. So it’s understandable if the Gallup poll released on Tuesday showing a shift in the number of Jews identifying as Democrats or Republicans will encourage the GOP continue its efforts to build support in that community. Nevertheless, more objective observers will be forgiven for being less enthusiastic. The results showed that at the end of 2014, 61 percent of Jews are Democrats and 29 percent Republicans. That’s a shift from only seven years ago when the figures showed the margin to be 71 to 22 percent in favor of the Democrats. But that still gives the Democrats a huge edge among Jews. Assuming that these trends hold steady, it would mean that Republicans could expect to have bare a majority of the Jewish vote in another 21 years. That won’t help their 2016 candidates much, but the question about whether they can really hope to keep gaining ground among Jews depends on which is the more decisive factor in determining Jewish political affiliation: demographic trends leading to a more Orthodox population or Barack Obama.

The breakdown of the Gallup poll seems to be very much in line with the results of the Pew Survey on Jewish Americans released in October 2013 that told the story of a community that was rapidly disintegrating due to assimilation and intermarriage. While support for and interest in Israel—a key advantage for Republicans in recent years—seemed to be down among most Jews, it was greater among those who were more religious. The Gallup numbers similarly showed that the more religious a Jew was, the more likely he or she is to identify as a Republican. If those demographic trends hold and more liberal Jews drift away from Judaism as a religion or support for the concept of Jewish peoplehood, that may leave a growing Orthodox community in position to eventually claim a much larger percentage, if not a majority, of the Jewish vote.

But if that is where the Jewish vote is heading, it must be understood that such a triumph, if triumph it is, will be in the context of a rapidly shrinking demographic group. When you consider that Jews are less than two percent of the population (though they vote in much greater numbers than most other groups), a larger share of such a tiny community is not likely to be decisive even if they are concentrated in large states with a lot of electoral votes.

But we’re a long way from even that not altogether likely scenario. For now, Jews remain overwhelming liberal (as COMMENTARY’s Norman Podhoretz explained in his seminal book on the subject) and very much in the pocket of the Democrats under all but the most exceptional of circumstances.

Nevertheless, though we may deprecate the small advantage that will accrue to either party in the event of any change in the Jewish vote, the rather significant shift in the last seven years can’t be ignored. Nor is it possible to avoid the conclusion to be drawn from the fact that this period coincides with the presidency of Barack Obama. Though a large majority of Jews voted first to elect and then (albeit by a smaller margin) to reelect Obama, the corresponding increase in Jews who call themselves Republicans and decrease in Democrats cannot be understood outside of the context of the president’s near constant combat with the government of Israel during his time in office. Except for a 2012 election-year pause for a Jewish charm offensive, the hostility between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has matched the low points of the U.S.-Israel relationship during the administration of the first President George Bush. The attacks on Israel by the president and his foreign-policy team have led to a number of pointless spats. Though the president has not abandoned the alliance altogether (as evidence by the U.S. vote against a Palestinian attempt to get the United Nations Security Council to recognize their independence) the chill in relations is not a secret. That it has taken a toll on Jewish support for his party is obvious.

This is a reminder that even the Republicans’ high point in modern presidential politics among Jews is something of a mirage. In 1980, Ronald Reagan got nearly 40 percent of the Jewish vote against Jimmy Carter, setting up the first great of GOP optimism about the Jewish vote. But Reagan’s success was not duplicated in 1984 when he won an even bigger landslide than his first race. In 1992, the first George Bush helped the GOP hit bottom among Jewish voters with his antagonistic relationship with Israel.

In other words, the size of the Jewish vote for Republicans was more a function of the unacceptability of the Democratic alternative than any great affection for the Gipper. Absent a Democrat that pro-Israel Jews don’t trust, surges in the Jewish vote for Republicans don’t happen.

But as much as anger about Obama’s attitude helped Republicans, heading into the 2016 election cycle they shouldn’t count on this continuing. The likely Democratic standard bearer next year is Hillary Clinton. Though her record on Israel is actually spotty—the GOP will never let her live down her embrace of Suha Arafat and she must bear some of the responsibility for the damage to the alliance during Obama’s first term—Jewish voters are likely to trust her more than they did Obama.

On the other side of the aisle, though Jeb Bush and most of the other potential Republican candidates are friends of Israel, the rising influence of Rand Paul bodes ill for Jewish Republicans. Though he claims to be for Israel too, his neo-isolationist approach to foreign policy is rightly derided as harmful the interests of the Jewish state. Should Paul become more influential in the party in the coming years, Republicans can forget about making gains in the Jewish vote.

Thus, while demography may be helping to tilt the meter incrementally in their favor, Republicans should be more concerned with nominating a candidate that can be relied on to support Israel. Even more to the point, they have to hope the Democrats nominate another would-be president that Jews fear or dislike. Failing that, no one should expect pro-GOP trends to be decisive.

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No One Better Than Obama

Yes, no one tops Obama when it comes to polarizing the electorate — not Reagan or even George W. Bush. Gallup reports:

His first-year ratings were the most polarized for a president in Gallup history, with an average 65-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s approval ratings have become slightly more polarized thus far in his second year in office, with an average 69-point gap between Democrats (83%) and Republicans (14%) since late January.

Obama’s approval ratings among non-Hispanic whites slid below the majority level in July 2009, and have not returned to that mark, generally hovering around 40% since mid-November. Meanwhile, his approval ratings among blacks have been stable throughout his presidency, right around 90%.

Though the latest 58% weekly approval average among 18- to 29-year-olds is among the lowest Obama has registered to date, it remains his highest current rating among the four age groups and is significantly better than his rating among senior citizens. Older Americans last gave Obama an approval rating above 50% last July. The gap in ratings between young adults and senior citizens has averaged 16 points during Obama’s presidency.

There are several noteworthy aspects to this. First, we know historically and from the “enthusiasm” gap in recent polling that the groups that fervently support Obama — Democrats, blacks, and young voters — are those more likely to have lower turnout numbers in November than those that oppose him — Republicans, whites, and older voters. This is very bad news for House and Senate Democratic candidates.

Second, the winning coalition that Obama constructed to win the primary and then the general election has collapsed, and he is back to his core supporters. It remains unclear whether he can put the pieces back together for the 2012 election.

Third, the hyper-partisanship and ideological agenda have taken their toll. Obama wanted to do “historic things” and create a “new foundation,” but these goals lacked broad-based support, leaving Obama and his party politically vulnerable. And most important, the campaign themes that Obama successfully rode to the presidency — that he was post-partisan, post-racial, moderate, and unifying — have been thoroughly repudiated, and with them has gone the image of a larger-than-life figure. He is now a not-too-popular liberal-Democratic pol with limited support for his extreme agenda.

Which come to think of it was pretty much what he’s always been — minus the campaign hype.

Yes, no one tops Obama when it comes to polarizing the electorate — not Reagan or even George W. Bush. Gallup reports:

His first-year ratings were the most polarized for a president in Gallup history, with an average 65-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s approval ratings have become slightly more polarized thus far in his second year in office, with an average 69-point gap between Democrats (83%) and Republicans (14%) since late January.

Obama’s approval ratings among non-Hispanic whites slid below the majority level in July 2009, and have not returned to that mark, generally hovering around 40% since mid-November. Meanwhile, his approval ratings among blacks have been stable throughout his presidency, right around 90%.

Though the latest 58% weekly approval average among 18- to 29-year-olds is among the lowest Obama has registered to date, it remains his highest current rating among the four age groups and is significantly better than his rating among senior citizens. Older Americans last gave Obama an approval rating above 50% last July. The gap in ratings between young adults and senior citizens has averaged 16 points during Obama’s presidency.

There are several noteworthy aspects to this. First, we know historically and from the “enthusiasm” gap in recent polling that the groups that fervently support Obama — Democrats, blacks, and young voters — are those more likely to have lower turnout numbers in November than those that oppose him — Republicans, whites, and older voters. This is very bad news for House and Senate Democratic candidates.

Second, the winning coalition that Obama constructed to win the primary and then the general election has collapsed, and he is back to his core supporters. It remains unclear whether he can put the pieces back together for the 2012 election.

Third, the hyper-partisanship and ideological agenda have taken their toll. Obama wanted to do “historic things” and create a “new foundation,” but these goals lacked broad-based support, leaving Obama and his party politically vulnerable. And most important, the campaign themes that Obama successfully rode to the presidency — that he was post-partisan, post-racial, moderate, and unifying — have been thoroughly repudiated, and with them has gone the image of a larger-than-life figure. He is now a not-too-popular liberal-Democratic pol with limited support for his extreme agenda.

Which come to think of it was pretty much what he’s always been — minus the campaign hype.

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The Perils of Ignoring Bad News

Two Democratic pollsters and consultants, Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen, take to the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages to decry the attack by the Obami and their supporters on Fox News and pollsters including Gallup and Rasmussen. They call out the vendetta against Fox, Robert Gibbs’s shot at Gallup, and the avalanche of criticism by liberal spinners as “political intimidation”:

The attacks on Rasmussen and Gallup follow an effort by the White House to wage war on Fox News and to brand it, as former White House Director of Communications Anita Dunn did, as “not a real news organization.” The move backfired; in time, other news organizations rallied around Fox News. But the message was clear: criticize the White House at your peril. … Mr. Gibbs’s comments and the recent attempts by the Democratic left to muzzle Scott Rasmussen reflect a disturbing trend in our politics: a tendency to try to stifle legitimate feedback about political concerns—particularly if the feedback is negative to the incumbent administration.

It’s not only unseemly and revealing of a prickly, defensive, and arrogant administration; it has, I think, contributed to the constant state of shock in which the Obami constantly find themselves. Who knew Van Jones was a problem? How could anyone see a 20-point thumping coming in the Virginia gubernatorial race and a loss in very Blue New Jersey? How could the tea-party protesters catch on? How could Massachusetts be competitive? They always seem a step behind the news and the last to recognize their flagging political fortunes.

That arguably flows directly from indifference and hostility to bad news. If one considers only MSNBC and the New York Times, you can miss a lot of news and many a warning sign that the public isn’t with you. And conversely, the refusal to engage the opposition in meaningful ways (rather than simply deride critics as illegitimate if not downright “un-American,” as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi tagged the town-hall attendees) has left the policy battleground to the other side. Conservatives say ObamaCare cuts Medicare, unwisely raises taxes in a recession, and will lead to rationed care. The Obami say: Shut up. You can see why they may be losing the argument.

Caddell and Schoen deserve credit for raising the red flag. But as Democrats, they do so not for purely altruistic reasons. They know, even if the White House doesn’t, that putting your fingers in your ears and humming is no way to govern.

Two Democratic pollsters and consultants, Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen, take to the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages to decry the attack by the Obami and their supporters on Fox News and pollsters including Gallup and Rasmussen. They call out the vendetta against Fox, Robert Gibbs’s shot at Gallup, and the avalanche of criticism by liberal spinners as “political intimidation”:

The attacks on Rasmussen and Gallup follow an effort by the White House to wage war on Fox News and to brand it, as former White House Director of Communications Anita Dunn did, as “not a real news organization.” The move backfired; in time, other news organizations rallied around Fox News. But the message was clear: criticize the White House at your peril. … Mr. Gibbs’s comments and the recent attempts by the Democratic left to muzzle Scott Rasmussen reflect a disturbing trend in our politics: a tendency to try to stifle legitimate feedback about political concerns—particularly if the feedback is negative to the incumbent administration.

It’s not only unseemly and revealing of a prickly, defensive, and arrogant administration; it has, I think, contributed to the constant state of shock in which the Obami constantly find themselves. Who knew Van Jones was a problem? How could anyone see a 20-point thumping coming in the Virginia gubernatorial race and a loss in very Blue New Jersey? How could the tea-party protesters catch on? How could Massachusetts be competitive? They always seem a step behind the news and the last to recognize their flagging political fortunes.

That arguably flows directly from indifference and hostility to bad news. If one considers only MSNBC and the New York Times, you can miss a lot of news and many a warning sign that the public isn’t with you. And conversely, the refusal to engage the opposition in meaningful ways (rather than simply deride critics as illegitimate if not downright “un-American,” as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi tagged the town-hall attendees) has left the policy battleground to the other side. Conservatives say ObamaCare cuts Medicare, unwisely raises taxes in a recession, and will lead to rationed care. The Obami say: Shut up. You can see why they may be losing the argument.

Caddell and Schoen deserve credit for raising the red flag. But as Democrats, they do so not for purely altruistic reasons. They know, even if the White House doesn’t, that putting your fingers in your ears and humming is no way to govern.

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