Clinton, Giuliani Top Survey of Jewish Voters

By Jennifer Siegel

Published December 12, 2007, issue of December 14, 2007.
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Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are the top two hopefuls among American Jews, according to a poll released this week.

Clinton garnered a “favorable” rating from 53% of all respondents to the survey, which was conducted by the American Jewish Committee. The senator’s onetime rival and fellow New Yorker, former Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani, was viewed favorably by 40% of the survey’s participants — a result far higher than the 15% who considered themselves members of the GOP, and slightly better than those posted overall by Democrats Barack Obama and John Edwards.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 self-identified American Jews between November 6 and November 25, presents the Jewish community as being somewhat out of step with the broader American electorate. When compared with a major national poll that was also released this week, the AJCommittee survey shows Jewish Americans to be less likely than the general public to support Illinois Senator Barack Obama but more likely to back Giuliani and former North Carolina senator Edwards.

The study also depicts the community’s attitudes toward a broad range of domestic and foreign issues, including its notably gloomy view of Israel’s prospects for peace.

“There was clearly a strong current of pessimism in terms of people’s expectations during the buildup to Annapolis,” said the AJCommittee’s director of research, David Singer, referring to the American-hosted Middle East peace conference held several weeks ago in Maryland. “The mood is rather dark.”

Asked if negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could lead to peace in the foreseeable future, 55% of respondents said no. Nearly three-fourths said they did not think Israel could achieve peace with a Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Further reflecting pessimism toward the peace process, fewer American Jews today support the establishment of a Palestinian state than the number that did so one year ago. Whereas 54% of respondents to the AJCommittee’s community survey said they would support the establishment of a Palestinian state in 2006, only 46% of respondents currently favored its creation given “the current situation.”

In both years, the margin of error for the survey was 3%.

On two other hot-button areas — Iraq and Iran — American Jewish opinion has remained fairly constant from last year. On Iraq, 26% of American Jews believe that the United States did the “right thing” in taking military action, while 68% believe that the United States should have stayed out. Conducted before the release of the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, the survey showed that a clear majority of American Jews — 57% — oppose American military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, although more than 90% expressed concern about that prospect.

Among Jewish Democrats, Clinton won a favorable rating from 70%, compared with 48% for Edwards and 45% for Obama. In comparison, Clinton was rated as favorable by 68% of Democrats nationwide, versus 36% for Edwards and 54% for Obama, according to a poll released Tuesday by The New York Times and CBS News.

Giuliani scored a favorable rating from three-quarters of Jewish Republicans — a score that far exceeds the favorable rating he won from 41% of Republicans nationally in the Times/CBS poll.

Given the high proportion of Democrats in the AJCommittee’s survey sample — 58% — Giuliani’s overall favorability rating of 40% suggests he could win votes from a significant number of Jewish voters should he advance to the general election.

The former New York City mayor is estimated to have won at least two-thirds of the Jewish vote during his successful runs for office in 1993 and 1997 — far greater than the 19% and 24% captured nationwide by President Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Arizona Senator John McCain scored a favorable mark from 49% of Jewish Republicans, followed by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, both with 32%. In a sign of the volatility of the race on the Republican side, the AJCommittee did not include former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in its survey, because he was not polling above 10% nationally in November.

Overall, the results show a clear advantage for Clinton and Giuliani among Jewish voters. At the same time, other candidates continue to draw from larger pools of currently undecided voters. For example, whereas less than 20% of Jewish Americans said they were currently unable to form an opinion about Clinton, slightly more than 35% have yet to make up their minds about Obama and Edwards.

When asked to pick their most important campaign issue from a list of options, 23% of those surveyed named the economy and jobs, followed by health care (19%), the war in Iraq (16%), terrorism and national security (14%), support for Israel (6%), immigration (6%) and the energy crisis (6%).

The AJCommittee’s Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion has been conducted on a yearly basis since 1997. Performed by Synovate, the poll drew from a sample that was broadly representative of the American Jewish community by a variety of measures, including place of residence, religious affiliation and attitudes toward Israel.

Asked, “How important would you say being Jewish is in your own life?” 60% of those surveyed answered “very important,” while 29% answered “fairly important” and 10% said “not very important.” Nearly 70% said they feel “very close” or “fairly close” to Israel.

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