By E.J. Kessler

Published October 31, 2003, issue of October 31, 2003.
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Unreliable Survey?: A Jewish Democratic group is challenging a recently reported finding that 35% of Jewish voters cast their ballots for Republicans in last November’s midterm election.

The statistic comes from exit polls conducted by the Voter News Service in 2002; the release of those polls’ findings was delayed for nearly a year because of a catastrophic software failure. Nevertheless, the 35% figure – a substantial rise from the 21% to 26% percent of Jews who, according to VNS, voted for Republicans in midterm and presidential elections in other years since 1992 – gained substantial press notice.

Distrusting the findings, the National Jewish Democratic Council asked what it is describing as a major Democratic pollster to research the reported 35% figure. The verdict? The VNS sample is unreliable.

“When we first got the VNS results, we were concerned about the size of the Republican vote,” the council’s executive director, Ira Forman, told the Forward. “On closer analysis, we found the sample terribly small. These numbers are almost meaningless for understanding the Jewish vote in 2002.”

Forman said a close statistical analysis of these 2002 VNS findings showed that the Jewish subsample for this exit poll yielded a margin of error greater than +/- 10.2%, “greatly reducing the statistical significance of the exit poll’s findings.” As a result, the 2002 VNS numbers for the Jewish vote for congressional candidates were “not statistically different” from the 2000 VNS numbers. The Voter News Service exit poll polled 17,872 voters, including a subsample of 253 Jewish voters.

“This results not only from the tiny sample size, but also because the Jewish population is heavily clustered within certain geographic areas, rather than distributed equally across all voting precincts,” Forman said, adding that the actual margin of error is “certainly several points higher,” but could not be quantified because of the reasons cited above. However, he said the 10.2% margin of error alone “swamps” the meaning and significance of the 2002 findings.

The executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matthew Brooks, who trumpeted the VNS finding when they came out, said that he stands by the numbers. “VNS has said the data was consistent with previous samples,” he said.

* * *

Forked Tongue?: The Arab American Institute is looking askance at reports that former Vermont governor Howard Dean took some strikingly pro-Israel positions in remarks to Jewish communal leaders — the day before he appeared at the institute’s conference this month in Dearborn, Mich.

Dean’s opposition to the Iraq war and blasts at the antiterrorist USA Patriot Act so electrified the crowd in Dearborn that several news accounts predicted Arab Americans would be jumping aboard the Dean bandwagon.

But the institute now apparently thinks that the presidential candidate may be promising different things to different audiences.

“Howard Dean, who boasts of straight talking, may have some explaining to do if reports of his comments before Jewish leaders last week are true,” the institute wrote in its “Countdown to Election 2004” newsletter.

The newsletter quoted from articles in the Jewish press that recounted statements Dean made to national communal leaders at a meeting at a Manhattan synagogue on October 17. According to those reports, Dean told the leaders that his remark saying that America “ought not to take sides” in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was “a mistake,” that the United States was not cracking down enough on Saudi Arabia for its support of terrorism and that Israel should not have to give up East Jerusalem in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

“Needless to say, these comments were not repeated the next day before an Arab-American audience in Michigan,” the institute newsletter noted dryly.

Institute president James Zogby told the Forward that he is “troubled” by the reported Dean comments and is seeking a meeting with the candidate to ascertain whether the reports are true. “We need to be a whole lot more careful about what we say, as he says, about how we thread the needle,” Zogby said.

Dean spokesman Eric Schmeltzer said Dean’s comments to the Jewish group were “nothing new” and that the candidate “doesn’t tailor his positions to who he’s talking to.”

* * *

Arizona Angst: The campaign of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is apologizing to the campaign of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman after Kerry supporters allegedly tried to dissuade Arizona legislators from supporting Lieberman because of his religion.

An October 29 report in the Arizona Republic quoted three legislators who support Lieberman as saying that Mario Diaz, Kerry’s campaign manager in Arizona, and state Rep. Ben Miranda, a Kerry supporter, told them to switch to Kerry because Lieberman “can’t campaign three days a week.”

Diaz and Miranda denied making the remarks.

“We were greatly disturbed by news reports this morning that John Kerry’s campaign attempted to use Senator Lieberman’s faith against him for political gain,” Lieberman campaign manager Craig Smith said in a news release. “We are confident that this type of divisive political campaigning doesn’t reflect the fairness of the people of Arizona and the importance that faith plays in their lives. If true, John Kerry should take swift action to rebuke these statements and disassociate himself from these individuals who have used these tactics on his behalf.”

The Kerry campaign distanced itself from the actions immediately, although it said its paid staffer was not involved.

“The Kerry campaign this morning severed its association with Rep. Ben Miranda,” Kerry spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement. “We have investigated the matter thoroughly, and we are fully satisfied that no member of the campaign staff was responsible for the incidents in question.

“We have expressed our deepest regrets to Senator Lieberman, a friend of Senator Kerry’s for many years, and made it clear that, of course, Senator Kerry deplores and will not tolerate the injection of religion into this race in any manner whatsoever.”

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