For President Obama and the Jews, it’s starting to look like 2008 all over again.
A new survey of Jews shows 62% plan to vote for the president, roughly similar to where he stood at this time four years ago when he went on to garner nearly 80% of the Jewish vote in November.
About 30% of those surveyed in the new Public Religion Research Institute poll said they planned to vote for a Republican, with 17% naming GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney and the rest split between the other three candidates.
Even more importantly, just 7% of Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 now prefer a Republican candidate, indicating Obama does not face a significant fracturing of his Jewish base of support.
Aside from Obama, the poll found Jewish Americans remain largely liberal, supportive of Democrats, and focused on social and economic issues.
While much of the political debate within the Jewish community has centered in recent months on the issue of Israel and on President Obama’s relations with the Jewish state, the survey reinforces previous poll data that shows Jewish voters do not view Israel as a deciding factor when voting for president. A majority of 51% pointed to the economy as the most important issue to their vote, followed by gaps between rich and poor (15%), healthcare (10%) and the federal deficit (7%). Only 4% of Jewish voters said Israel is the most important issue for them when deciding for whom to vote.
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Public Religion Research Institute is a non-partisan organization which focuses on the role of religion in American public life. The survey questioned 1,004 self-identifying Jews, including those who stated they are Jews by religion, by ethnicity or who are culturally Jewish. The margin of error is 5%.
The 62% support for Obama is strikingly similar to the numbers he received in a Gallup poll taken in June 2008. At that time, 62% of Jews said they planned to vote for Obama, compared to 31% who supported Republican John McCain.
Despite strong support for Obama, some Jewish voters are critical of his first term performance, possibly because they feel he has not achieved enough of their liberal objectives. Half of Jews identifying as Democrats express satisfaction with Obama’s achievements, but 31% of Democratic Jews said they feel disappointed, 13% are worried and 2% say they are angry.
Aside from presidential politics, the survey provides a window into the mindset of American Jewish voters, asking about the qualities most important for their Jewish identity. Nearly half of all surveyed point to a commitment to social justice as the most important quality. Support for Israel comes in a distance second with only 20% of Jews viewing it as an important quality, followed by religious observance, and cultural heritage.
Democrats give significantly more weight than to social equality than Republicans (54% to 22%) while support for Israel is the prominent factor among Republicans compared to Democrats(37% to 15%).
A slim majority of 54% of Jews think relations between the U.S. and Israel are as good as they were in the past, but a significant minority of 37% say relations have worsened in recent years. This feeling is stronger among Republicans, older Jews, and those who are affiliated with synagogues. When it comes to President Obama’s dealing with the Mideast conflict, only 20% agree both with Obama’s policies and with the way they’ve been executed; 15% like the policies but not the way Obama carried them out; and 28% disagree with Obama’s policies on the issue. More than a third of American Jews do not have an opinion on Obama’s policy toward the Israeli–Arab conflict.
American Jews support the establishment of a Palestinian state, with 53% backing the idea.
On Iran, nearly six in ten American Jews support a U.S. military action against Iran’s nuclear sites if economic sanctions fail. Republican Jews feel stronger on this issue than Jews who vote Democratic. At the same time, American Jews do not rank Iran as Israel’s greatest problem. Nine out of ten respondents pointed to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict as the main source of concern while only 83% believe it is Iran.
Jewish Americans, the survey found, strongly believe the government should play a greater role in reducing gaps between rich and poor and an overwhelming majority support the “Buffett rule” which calls for increasing tax for the rich. Most Jewish Americans (52%) state they’ll agree to pay more taxes to fund programs that help the poor. Jewish American also check all other boxes when it comes to defining liberal political positions. They strongly support abortion rights (93%), same-sex marriage (81%), and environmental regulation (69%). They believe the Supreme Court should not overturn health care laws.
When asked to rate whether public figures represent Jewish values, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came in first with 73%, followed by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Senator Joseph Lieberman and comedian Jon Stewart are seen by 60% or more of respondents as representing Jewish values, while Majority Leader Eric Cantor and comedian Sarah Silverman share a lower rating of less than 40% seeing them as representing Jewish values.
Looking into the religious beliefs, the survey puts Reform as the largest denomination (35%) followed by Conservative (26%), Orthodox (8%), Reconstructionist (1%) and the “Just Jewish” or non-denominational Jews with 29%. These results are consistent with previous surveys of the Jewish community.
Synagogue affiliation, the survey found, is reatively low, with only 35% of Jews report to be members of a synagogue. The most important holiday for Jews is Yom Kippur (43%) followed by Passover (25%) with two thirds of Jewish respondents saying they plan to attend a Passover seder this year.
Nathan Guttman can be reached 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.