How Big Was Obama's Jewish Win?

GOP and Democrats Spar Over Dip in Support From 2008

Parsing the Vote: President Barack Obama won a slightly smaller share of the Jewish vote in 2012, compared to last time, polls suggest. But what does it all mean?
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Parsing the Vote: President Barack Obama won a slightly smaller share of the Jewish vote in 2012, compared to last time, polls suggest. But what does it all mean?

By Nathan Guttman

Published November 07, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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Jewish Democrats noted that Obama received 74% of Jewish votes and therefore the decline in Jewish support amounts to 5 percentage points. The 74% baseline reflects a compilation of national and local exit polling data from 2008 which was completed last year.

Republicans, on the other hand, like to compare this year’s outcome to the initial national exit poll figure from 2008 which stood at 78%, thus reflecting a decline of 9 percentage points in support for Obama. Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, called 78% the “gold standard figure” for analyzing the ’08 Jewish vote. Obama supporters argued, in response, that it would be wrong to use partial exit poll data when more accurate information exists.

The difference is significant. A 9 percentage point shift, as Republicans see it, would indicate major success for efforts to sway Jewish voters away from the Democratic side. On the flip side, a 5 percentage point decline could be seen as reflecting the general drop in support for Obama. The president won by a popular vote margin that was about 3 percentage points less than he did in 2008. In many core Democratic constituencies except African-American and Latino voters, support in 2012 dropped by similar amounts.

“The shift in Jewish vote reflects the shift in other constituencies,” said Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein who conducted a Jewish vote survey for J Street on election day. Other Democrats described the 4-to-5 percentage point change as being within the statistical margin of error.

The figures also vary slightly depending on the party conducting the polling. J Street’s pollwhich was carried out by calling Jewish voters after they cast their ballots on Tuesday, found the Jewish vote split 70/30 in favor of Obama on the national level. In Ohio 69% of the Jewish voters supported Obama and in Florida 68% voted for the Democratic candidate. A similar poll commissioned by the RJC and conducted by Arthur Finkelstein found only 60.8% of Jews voted for Obama, with 7.6% either refusing to answer or stating they voted for “someone else” and 31.6% for Romney. This, Republicans say, is a dramatic increase in Jewish support for a Republican candidate.

Both sides also disagree over what drove Jewish voter to choose either candidate. Gerstein’s poll asked voters to list the most important issues determining their vote and found that just as any other segment of the population, most Jewish voters (53%) were primarily concerned with the economy and that Israel was a determining issue for only 10%.


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