Washington — With the battle over the Jewish vote in full swing, a new poll suggests that Democrats have little reason for concern: Jews are firmly in President Obama’s corner.
And the reason, the poll suggests, has nothing to do with Obama’s views on Israel or Iran. It is all about the economy and social justice.
The reason for Democrats’ strong showing in the poll, which was released April 3, lies in deeply rooted views of American Jews on social issues, including traditional liberal stances on improving the economy and reducing the gap between rich and poor.
“Whoever wants to appeal to Jewish voters has to go through social values,” said Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, the not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization that conducted the survey. “Our poll shows that you cannot appeal to these voters through the single issue of Israel.”
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For Democrats, the main takeaway from the poll was Obama’s tight hold on Jewish voters, virtually identical to his standing in the community in a poll taken in June 2008.
“This is where I’d expect him to be, so I think he’s in a strong position” said Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein, who predicted that Obama will add to his lead once the GOP chooses its candidate.
Not so, argued Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He said that Obama should be at or near the 78% of the Jewish vote that he won in the 2008 election.
“This shows Obama has a real Jewish problem,” Brooks said.
The survey showed that 62% of Jewish voters planned to support Obama in the November election, compared with 30% who said they will vote for one of the four Republican candidates.
In June 2008, a Gallup poll showed Obama with a 62% to 31% lead over Republican John McCain. Obama extended the lead to reach a 78% to 21% margin by November of that year.
One of the new poll’s most pronounced findings was the very small number of Jewish voters who had lost their faith in Obama. According to the poll, just 7% of Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 now prefer a Republican candidate.
While much of the political debate within the Jewish community has centered in recent months on the issue of Israel and on Obama’s relations with the Jewish state, the poll suggested that the issue was overblown. It backed up previous poll data showing that Jewish voters did not view Israel as a deciding factor when voting for president.
A majority of 51% pointed to the economy as the issue most important to their vote, followed by gaps between rich and poor (15%), health care (10%) and the federal deficit (7%). Only 4% of Jewish voters said Israel was the most important issue for them when deciding who should get their vote. Even when asked to name their second-most-important issue, Jewish voters gave the issue of Israel only marginal importance.
The data would suggest that the Republicans’ focus on attacking both Obama’s record on Israel and his troubled relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was having little, if any, traction.
Even conservative pundits concede that Jewish voters are swayed more by domestic issues, and the voters may be particularly sensitive to GOP candidates’ conservative rhetoric.
“Concerns about Obama and Israel have been trumped by the right-wing language of Republican candidates,” said Frank Luntz, a Fox News contributor and Republican pollster. “The Jewish community is looking at the fight over abortions and contraceptives and religion, and they don’t like it.”