The annual American Jewish Committee poll is out with its results. In a sample of 800 American Jews over a several-week span, it found that President Obama is regarded poorly in the Jewish community. Forty-eight percent disapprove of his performance, 45 percent approve. His performance on the economy is rated much worse: only 37 percent approve and 60 percent disapprove. These numbers are starting to approximate the views of non-Jewish voters.
On Israel, 53 percent disapprove of the president’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, and 40 percent give him a thumbs up. The GOP contender who would do best against Obama with Jewish voters is Mitt Romney, who gets 32 percent of the vote in the survey and drags Obama down to 50 percent (from his 78 percent in 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry got 25 percent, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) got 19 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got 26 percent.
As for the particulars of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Jews substantive positions are at odds with the president on a variety of topics. Fifty-five percent disapprove of a Palestinian state, and 59 percent think Israel shouldn’t compromise on Jerusalem. Overwhelming majorities think the United States should cut off aid to a Hamas-Fatah government and that the PA should recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
On Iran, Jewish voters are much more hawkish than the president. If sanctions fail to halt Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, 56 percent favor the U.S. taking military action, and 68 percent favor Israel doing so.
So what can we say from this? First, Jews’ opinions of Obama are coming to approximate those of non-Jews, but when it comes to voting for him, they plan to stick by him in greater numbers than the general population. Second, although Jews still gravitate toward the incumbent, he is running about 25 percent behind his 2008 numbers with Jewish voters. That is significant for a group that is surpassed only by African Americans in loyalty to the Democratic Party. And third, while Christie fans have speculated that he would do better among Jews than Perry, that isn’t yet borne out in the polling; it may, however, change if Christie formally announces. Finally, a word of caution about the poll: Only 29 percent of those surveyed identified themselves Reform Jews, and 37 percent identified themselves as “Just Jews” (likely nonaffiliated or non-engaged Jews), while Conservative and Orthodox Jews (who are the most conservative politically and upset by Obama’s stance on Israel) collectively account for 31 percent of the Jewish population. Other studies suggest the population is much more tilted toward Reform Jews and “Just Jews.” That suggests that the AJC poll may be slightly more anti-Obama than the larger Jewish community.
In sum, Obama is grossly underperforming among Jewish voters. But the dichotomy between what Jewish voters think of Obama’s performance and how they will vote remains. Jews may be moving away from their reflexive attachment to the Democratic Party, but they have hardly renounced it.
UPDATE (2:00 p.m.): Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union gets the cross-tabs on the AJC poll. He writes: “Orthodox respondents disapprove of ‘Obama’s handling of his job as President’ at a much higher rate: 72%, compared to 48% for Conservative and 44% for Reform. Many more Orthodox respondents disapprove of Obama’s handing of U.S. relations with Israel: 80% Orthodox respondents would vote for GOP contenders Romney, Perry, Christie and even (by a small margin) Bachmann over Obama. . . . Orthodox respondents choose Romney and Christie over Obama at the same rate – 58%, but choose Perry over Obama at only 50% and Bachmann at 39%.” It is noteworthy that the poll was conducted before the last debate and negative media coverage of Perry.