Jews stick with Obama because of social issues
Israel Counts Little as President Opens Up Big Lead in New Poll
By Nathan Guttman, Jewish Forward
WASHINGTON — With the battle over the Jewish vote in full swing, a new poll suggests that Democrats have little reason for concern: Jews are firmly in President Obama’s corner.
And the reason, the poll suggests, has nothing to do with Obama’s views on Israel or Iran. It is all about the economy and social justice.
The survey showed that 62% of Jewish voters plan to support Obama in the 2012 election, compared to 30% who say they will vote for one of the four Republican candidates.
The reason for Democrats’ strong showing in the poll, which was released April 3, lies in the deeply rooted views of Jewish voters on social issues, including traditional liberal stances on improving the economy and reducing the gap between rich and poor, analysts said.
“Whoever wants to appeal to Jewish voters has to go through social values,” said Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, the not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization that conducted the survey. “Our poll shows that you cannot appeal to these voters through the single issue of Israel.”
For Democrats, the main takeaway from the poll was Obama’s tight hold on Jewish voters, virtually identical to his standing in the community in a poll taken in June 2008.
“This is where I’d expect him to be, so I think he’s in a strong position” said Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein, who predicted that Obama will add to his lead once the Republicans choose their candidate.
Not so, argued Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He asserted that Obama should be at or near the 78% of the Jewish vote that he won in the November 2008 election.
“This shows Obama has a real Jewish problem,” Brooks said.
In June 2008, a Gallup poll showed Obama with a 62% to 31% lead over Republican John McCain. He extended the lead to reach his 78% to 21% margin on Election Day.
One of the new poll’s most important findings is the extremely small number of Jewish voters losing their faith in Obama. According to the poll, just 7% of Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 now prefer a Republican candidate.
While much of the political debate within the Jewish community has centered in recent months on the issue of Israel and on Obama’s relations with the Jewish state, the poll suggests that the issue is overblown. It backs up previous poll data showing that Jewish voters do not view Israel as a deciding factor when voting for president.
A majority of 51% pointed to the economy as the issue most important to their vote, followed by gaps between rich and poor (15%), health care (10%) and the federal deficit (7%). Only 4% of Jewish voters said Israel is the most important issue for them when deciding who should get their vote. Even when asked to name their second-most-important issue, Jewish voters gave the issue of Israel only marginal importance.
The data suggests that Republicans’ focus on attacking both Obama’s record on Israel and his troubled relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is having little, if any, traction.
Even conservative pundits concede that Jewish voters are swayed more by domestic issues, and the voters may be particularly sensitive to GOP candidates’ conservative rhetoric.
“Concerns about Obama and Israel have been trumpeted by the right-wing language of Republican candidates,” said Frank Luntz, a Fox News contributor and Republican pollster. “The Jewish community is looking at the fight over abortions and contraceptives and religion, and they don’t like it.”
PRRI’s poll supports this explanation. Jewish voters, the survey found, are as liberal and socially progressive as any slice of the American electorate.
Nearly half of all surveyed point to a commitment to social justice as the most important quality. Support for Israel comes in a distant second, with only 20% of Jews viewing it as an important quality, followed by religious observance and cultural heritage.
Jews strongly believe that the government should play a greater role in reducing gaps between rich and poor, and an overwhelming majority of them support the “Buffett Rule,” which calls for increasing taxes on the rich. Most Jews (52%) stated they would agree to pay more taxes to fund programs that help the poor.
Jewish voters 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 that the Supreme Court should not overturn health care laws.
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 the Jews identifying as Democrats express satisfaction with Obama’s achievements, but 31% of Democratic Jews said they feel disappointed, while 13% are worried and 2% say they are angry. Luntz told the Forward that his own polling data suggests that Jewish support for Obama does not have the intensity it had in 2008.
Of the 30% of American Jews who said they’ll vote for a Republican candidate, the clear choice is Mitt Romney, with 17%. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul all trail far behind.
Brooks pointed to the 30% figure as a “fabulous” number for Republicans, who have not seen such numbers since Ronald Reagan’s run against Jimmy Carter in 1980.
The poll also included nuggets of information about Jews’ views on the Middle East conflict. A slim majority of 54% of Jews think relations between the United States 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 Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict, only 20% agree both with his policies and 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 one-third of American Jews do not have an opinion on Obama’s policy toward the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Jews support the establishment of a Palestinian state, with a solid 53% backing the idea.
On Iran, nearly six in 10 American Jews support action against Iran’s nuclear sites if economic sanctions fail. Republican Jews feel stronger on this issue than Jews who vote Democratic do. At the same time, Jews do not rank Iran as Israel’s greatest problem. Nine out of 10 respondents pointed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the main source of concern, while 83% believe that it is Iran.
The poll included 1,004 self-identifying Jews, including those who stated they are Jews by religion or by ethnicity, or that they are culturally Jewish. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 5%.