Obama's Sinking Jewish Numbers--Is It Israel?

By Nathan Guttman

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The American Jewish Committee’s survey of Jewish opinion published yesterday is widely considered the best resource out there for actually gauging the mood of Jewish voters. AJC surveys are non-partisan and, some critics (including Forward columnist and former editor J.J. Goldberg) notwithstanding, have a good reputation throughout the years of providing a fair portrayal of the community’s views on issues.

The headlines on its latest survey are taken, naturally, by the data suggesting President Obama is losing the community’s support over his handling of relations with Israel.

But just how important is this issue for Jewish voters heading to the polling stations on November 2? (and according to the survey, 92% of them actually intend to vote.) 61% of Jewish voters see Israel as a “very important” issue when choosing their candidate in the mid-term congressional elections. It might seem high, but in fact, Israel comes in only sixth in the list of concerns Jewish voters have when choosing their elected officials. The economy tops the list of issues (87%) and then come unemployment, healthcare, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and financial reform. Issues relating to Israel are tied for sixth place with broader concerns regarding foreign policy.

What issues are not of great concern for Jewish voters?

Energy policy (50%), Immigration (43%) and of least concern is the Gulf oil spill, which apparently is on the mind of only 26% of Jewish voters when they go to the ballot.

The answers to this question are consistent with data from previous elections cycle and, according to several pollsters, also fit the information they are gathering in local polling and focus groups. It does not mean that Jewish voters do not care about Israel, said David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Coalition, but rather that Jewish voters feel comfortable with the level of support for Israel demonstrated by most candidates, Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans, however, are still spending huge amounts of money this election cycle on attacking Democratic candidates for not being supportive enough of Israel. Are they misreading the political map or is this part of a broader political strategy?

More on that in the upcoming piece in this week’s issue of the Forward.

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