(February 22, 2009 – Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images North America)
American Jews may take a more jaundiced view of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting their opinions about the presidential race. The latest poll from the American Jewish Committee shows President Obama likely to take a smaller portion of the Jewish vote than he did in 2008 but avoiding the catastrophic decline that Republicans hoped his combative attitude toward Israel would produce. Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 65-24 percent margin among Jewish voters. That represents a marked decline from the 78 percent he got in 2008 (though Democrats now claim the number was only 74 percent). But Romney’s inability to get more than a quarter of the Jewish vote shows that resistance to the GOP among this largely liberal group is still intense.
That still shows a potential loss among Jewish voters for Obama that was larger than his expected decline from the totals he had in 2008 among the rest of the population. That can be reasonably interpreted as a backlash against the administration’s endless rounds of fights with Israel’s government, such as the latest one over Iran that gave the lie to the Democrats’ election-year Jewish charm offensive. But Romney’s failure to make more of this weakness on Obama’s part undermines any scenario by which lost Jewish votes for the Democrats could alter the outcome in swing states like Florida. While the poll shows some progress for the GOP this year, the data show that liberal ideology and partisan affinity for the Democrats still overwhelms any concerns about the Middle East for the majority of Jews.
While previous polls of Jewish voters have encountered skepticism because of sample size, this AJCommittee poll avoids that problem. Though the margin of error is fairly large at five percent, the sample consists of 1,040 Jews rather than the much smaller numbers of previous polls, including one also sponsored by the organization that showed Obama leading by a larger margin in Florida than many though reasonable.
The breakdown by denomination shows the depth of the Republicans’ problem. Obama has large leads among Conservative and Reform Jews as well as those who call themselves “just Jewish.” But Romney has a 54-40 percent edge among Orthodox voters. Given that the survey showed only 8.3 percent of the Jewish voting population were Orthodox, that accounts for the lopsided margin. However, that does give the GOP some hope for improving their lot in the future, since the Orthodox are the fastest growing sector of American Jewry.
Given the ongoing tussle between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the former’s refusal to set red lines about the Iranian threat, it is interesting to note that 64 percent of Jewish voters don’t believe the president’s policies of diplomacy and sanctions will stop Iran. An equally large majority — 65 percent — would support U.S. military against Iran with an even larger number backing Israeli action that Obama opposes.
This data can be interpreted in one of two ways. On the one hand, Jewish voters may actually believe Obama will use force in a second term to stop Iran, rather than doubting him as apparently the Israelis do. On the other, it may be more proof that whatever their opinions about Israel or Iran, most Jews simply do not view these issues as priorities when they vote. American Jews are not only not one-issue voters, Israel ranks fairly low in their list of priorities with 61.5 percent listing the economy as the most important issue, 16.1 percent saying health care, 4.7 percent listing abortion and 4.5 percent mentioning U.S.-Israel relations. Only 4.2 percent called it the second most important issue and 6.1 percent said it was the third most important.