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Spinning polls on Obama’s Jewish support

Anyone who believes the hype over the recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute suggesting that Jews don’t consider Israel an important factor in their vote hasn’t spoken to any Jews in the last three years. And anyone who buys the spin from the survey that American Jews are showing strong support for Obama is simply ignorant of electoral history.

Putting aside what looks to be a liberal bias in the response group (44 percent identified as liberal or very liberal) and questions (which focused on religious and social issues rather than security and peace issues), the fact that Jews, like most Americans, would say the economy is the most important issue in this election is unremarkable. The more interesting question would be how many of these Jews are assimilated, disinterested in politics, have little knowledge or interest in Israel, because answers to these questions would probably also put the results in a proper perspective.

Two hints that this sample is unrepresentative and includes those less likely to consider Israel important are the finding that 60% of those polled don’t belong to synagogues and 64% never visited Israel.

If you ask people who attend synagogues, who have traveled to Israel, are members of AIPAC and other Jewish organization or are seniors, I suspect you would be hard pressed to find someone who does not think Israel is a very important issue. More important than the economy? Maybe not, but the relevant question is whether it is important enough that they will vote against someone they believe will harm Israel’s interests.

The lack of concern the pollsters found for Israel is reflected in the apparent disinterest of the pollsters, who asked only seven out of 43 questions about Israel and only one that directly related to security. Still, on these questions, the results were far more hawkish than one would expect from the liberal views found on social issues. For example, 83% said Iran is a major problem, second only to the concern expressed for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which asked no follow-ups as to the reasons for its perpetuation, such as terrorism, incitement and the Palestinian refusal to enter negotiations). Furthermore, 59% said the US should take military action against Iran if sanctions fail. Only 53% supported a Palestinian state, 42% opposed.

Speaking around the country and reading what Jews are writing about in the mainstream and social media, it is quite evident the election is very much on their minds and the questions people ask are not about Obamacare or the deficit, it’s about aid to Israel, Iran and whether Obama can be trusted to protect Israel.

Does anyone believe that Obama and his rivals would go to the AIPAC conference and spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about Israel if they did not believe it was an issue that shaped Jews’ votes? They read polls every day and if they believed Jews didn’t care about Israel, you can be sure that Obama would have spent his time defending his record on the economy at AIPAC rather than his policy toward Israel.

It was also no revelation to hear the poll found that 62% of Jews would vote for Obama. This is an improvement from the 54% in the Gallup Poll in September 2011, which may reflect that Jews feel better about his new approach to Israel, they believe the economy is improving or they’re simply disenchanted with their other choices. Nevertheless, 62% is potentially disastrous for Obama in a close election. Remember, he got 78% of the Jewish vote in 2008; 16 points is a precipitous decline.

Even the most delusional Republican does not expect any of their candidates to win a majority of the Jewish vote. But in a close election it could make a difference if the Republican gets more than 30% as Reagan and Bush Sr. did in their victories. Remember also that Bush’s Jewish vote dropped to 11% because of his anti-Israel policies and was trounced by Clinton in 1992.

The survey spinners also failed to consider historical perspective. Obama’s current support is the lowest percentage for any Democrat since Jimmy Carter. The average Jewish vote for a Democrat is 71%, so his support is significantly below average. In fact, the last two Democrats to receive less than 70% of the Jewish vote – Dukakis and Mondale – both lost.