Has President Trump’s effort to reach out to Jewish voters hit a brick wall with everyone but the Orthodox?
With a staggering 77% disapproval rate among Jewish voters and only 21% viewing Trump positively, the poll indicates that Jews hold a significantly worse view than the overall population does of the president
The finding that American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic and disapprove of Republican presidents comes as no surprise and is in line with a years-long trend among Jewish voters. However, it also indicates that Trump’s focus on improving relations with Israel and putting an end to tensions that existed between the U.S. administration and the Israeli government during the Obama presidency did little to change his perception among Jewish voters.
According to the AJC Committee poll, 40% of American Jews approve of the way Trump is handling U.S.-Israel relations (of them, 18% approve strongly and 22% approve), 54% disapprove (23% strongly, 31% somewhat). While still in the negatives, this is the area where Trump performs best with American Jews. Others issues tested by the AJC included terrorism, Iran’s nuclear plan, NATO, immigration and race relations.
“What this means is that a pro-Israel agenda is necessary, but not sufficient for winning over the American Jewish community,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said. “Jewish Americans don’t like Donald Trump, and his policies on Israel aren’t enough to change their view.”
Although poll numbers vary, Hillary Clinton won about 70% of the Jewish vote in the November 2016 election.
Republicans have seen the fraught relations between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as an opening in their efforts to peel away Jewish voters, historically aligned with the Democratic Party. Trump had stressed throughout his campaign his intention to mend fences with Israel, to do away with the Iranian nuclear deal that Israel opposed and to ease pressure on West Bank settlement building. Still, he fares worse than Obama on the question of relations with Israel. Obama, in the last year of his presidency, had 49% of American Jews disapproving of the way he conducted relations with Israel, compared to 48% approving.
Trump’s relative success in gaining American Jews’ approval when it comes to his relations with Israel, does not seem to have the impact Republicans had expected. The Israel issue cannot, the poll suggests, be leveraged to improve Trump’s overall standing with American Jews.
“In my focus groups, Jews do recognize and appreciate the more constructive relationship the administration has had with Israel,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz said. “But they are still more likely to be partisan Democrats than the population overall, so I’m not surprised at the results.” Asked if this means being pro-Israel would never be enough for Trump to win over Jewish voters, Luntz replied “correct.”
While the idea of focusing on Israel as a way to reach Jewish voters did not pan out, the AJC survey may indicate that Republicans were right to bet on Orthodox Jews as their main base of support in the Jewish community.
Some 71% of those who identify as Orthodox approve of Trump, compared with 25% of Conservatives, 11% of Reform, 8% of Reconstructionists and 14% of those identifying as “just Jewish.”
Pollsters noted, however, that the 1,000 respondents survey is too small a sample to draw definitive conclusions regarding the Orthodox community.
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.