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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The writer is a foreign
policy analyst. His latest books are The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That
Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East and Israel Matters: Understand
the Past – Look to the Future.