A new poll from the American Jewish Committee shows further erosion of President Obama’s Jewish support. Only 45 percent of American Jews approve of “the way President Barack Obama has handled his job as President,” and 48 percent disapprove. This is an even worse statistic than the 40 percent Jewish disapproval that Gallup reported last week.
Even more damning, the AJC survey suggests that this disapproval might not simply stem from general economic woes: 53 percent of those surveyed disapprove “of the Obama Administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations.” And a plurality – 45 percent – disapprove “of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue.”
This runs opposite the story that Obama supporters have spun since NY-9. The loss of the Jewish vote in NY-9, they argue, stemmed from unrepresentative Orthodox Jews who voted on gay marriage and former Representative Anthony Weiner. It had nothing to do with Obama’s Israel policy.
Whoops. Gallup and now AJC have proved this wrong. It seems that the Administration’s unceasing public chastisements of Israel and its meek approach toward Iran do matter to American Jews. And this, in turn, should matter to Obama. American Jews, though only four percent of the vote, finance a good chunk of the Democratic political engine.
Ron Kampeas estimates “that Jewish donors provide between one-third and two-thirds of the party’s money.” David Freedlander claims that “nearly 60 percent of the money raised by the Democratic National Committee is donated by Jews,” and Steven Windmueller says that “Jewish donors have generated as much as 45 cents of every dollar raised by Democrats.”
But while Obama’s Jewish problem might mean fewer votes and less money for his 2012 reelection, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Republican Party will pick up loads of Jewish votes and money. According to the same AJC poll, if “Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate and Mitt Romney the Republican candidate,” Jews would favor Obama 50 to 32. Matched against Rick Perry, Jews would favor Obama 55 to 25, and Obama would slaughter Bachmann 59 to 19 percent.
True, each of these percentages represents a precipitous decline from Obama’s 78 percent share of the Jewish vote in 2008, but the beneficiary is not the Republican candidate as much as it is the “neither” survey option.
For Republicans to take full advantage of Obama’s Jewish problem, they will have to name the right candidate (Romney looks better than Perry) while continuing to press their advantage on Israel and softening their social positions. This especially means no more public group Christian prayers from Rick Perry – something that even drew criticism from the conservative, Jewish Washington Post commentator Jennifer Rubin.
It’s unrealistic to expect candidates at this point to focus on Israel or cool it on gay marriage – the Republican primary is in full swing and the Jewish Republican primary vote is virtually nonexistent. But when the time comes for the general election, the Republican candidate will have to make a real effort to get the Jewish vote and money. Yes, it now seems definite that Jews are upset with Obama. But this doesn’t mean they’re ready to go Republican.