In a tug-of-war over the question of how the Obama administration’s approach toward Israel is affecting the views of American Jews, Jewish Democrats and Republicans are each touting data seeming to point in opposite directions.
Republicans say that polling shows Jews are turning their backs on President Obama and the Democrats, while Democrats argue that the evidence suggests Jewish voters are sticking with their party.
Republicans say that friction between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government in Israel is taking its toll on Jewish support for the president and his party. Jewish voters, they argue, feel uncomfortable with Obama’s pressure on Israel and will make their concerns known by shifting toward the Republican side.
“Polls are no more than a snapshot, but they are a source of encouragement for Republicans,” said Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “And for Democrats there is a lot to be concerned of.”
A recent poll commissioned by One Jerusalem, a group opposed to dividing sovereignty over Jerusalem, is cited by some as proof that there is a backlash against Obama among Jewish voters.
The poll, conducted by Republican pollster John McLaughlin, asked Jewish voters whether they would vote to re-elect Obama in 2012 or prefer another candidate. The poll found that 46% of respondents said they would prefer to vote for a candidate other than Obama, while 42% responded they would prefer to vote for Obama again. Jewish Democrats have criticized the poll’s methodology, and in particular the wording of this question, arguing that the unnamed, hypothetical candidate Jewish voters might prefer to vote for may not even be a Republican.
McLaughlin’s poll also found that while 50% of Jewish voters approve of Obama’s job in handling relations with Israel, 39% disapprove. “This rating is not good for a group of voters who are 59% Democratic to only 19% Republican,” McLaughlin concluded in his report on the poll’s results.
Another survey, conducted by the American Jewish Committee — a group whose annual surveys of American Jewish public opinion are widely respected — found that 55% of American Jews approve of Obama’s handling of relations with Israel, while 37% disapprove.
The AJC poll also found that Obama enjoys a higher overall approval rating among Jews — 57% — than he does among the general population.
Jewish supporters of Obama point to a poll conducted by Jim Gerstein for the dovish Israel lobbying group J Street during the height of the dispute between Netanyahu and Obama over building in East Jerusalem. This poll also showed the president’s approval rating among Jews — 62%— was much higher than his approval rating among the general population and that the issue of Israel was hardly a decisive factor for most Jewish voters. When asked to rank the main issues that will determine their vote in the 2010 mid-term elections, Jewish voters overwhelmingly chose the economy and health care, ranking Israel only in sixth place.
Furthermore, Democrats say that if one is looking for signs regarding the upcoming November congressional elections, they have solid proof that Jewish voters remain on their side.
They point to the April 13 special election in Florida’s 19th Congressional District for the seat formerly held by popular Democrat Robert Wexler, who left Congress to take the helm of the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation. Ted Deutch, the Democratic candidate, beat a Republican opponent, by a margin of 62% to 35%. Analysts see the vote in Florida’s 19th district — one of the country’s most heavily Jewish districts — as an indication that Jewish voters remain as supportive of the Democrats as they have ever been. “Deutch’s performance suggests that Barack Obama’s harsh criticism of the Israeli government has not hurt Democratic candidates among Jewish voters,” wrote political analyst Michael Barone.
This conclusion seems to be supported by a study conducted by the Democratic-aligned Jewish group the Solomon Project. The study examined heavily Jewish precincts within Florida’s 19th district. It found that support for Deutch was practically as high as support for Obama in the 2008 presidential elections in these precincts. “For those who argue that Jews are becoming more Republican in 2010, the results in Jewish precincts in this election provides little or no support,” concluded the study, which was conducted by the Solomon Project’s research director, Ira Forman, who is also the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
Republicans dismiss the Florida vote and Forman’s survey as insignificant, since the district is known to be strongly Democratic. They prefer to cite this past November’s gubernatorial election in New Jersey, where exit polling showed the victorious Republican, Chris Christie, taking 38% of the Jewish vote.
And while Democrats and Republicans continue to look at different numbers in support of their views, some experts note that in any case the impact of Jewish voters in 2010 is not likely to be of very great significance. Barone counts only six congressional districts with significant Jewish population that might be in play. His conclusion: “There’s likely to be very little falloff in Democratic percentages among Jewish voters. But this will not be a major factor in the large majority of seriously contested Senate and House races.”
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.