WASHINGTON -- American Jews are feeling “grumpy,” according to the American Jewish Committee’s take on its latest public opinion survey.
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That's not good news for US President Barack Obama, whose Jewish approval level has dipped below 50 percent. But American Jews don't seem particularly excited about the Republicans hoping to replace him either.
Jews now approve and disapprove of Obama's performance in roughly equal numbers, according to the annual poll, released Monday. It shows 45 percent of American Jews approve of Obama as opposed to 48 percent disapproving -- the difference falling within with the survey's margin of error of 3 percentage points. The numbers show a substantial drop for Obama from the 57 percent of Jews who approved of his performance in the 2010 AJC survey.
Asked about various areas of Obama's performance, American Jews were the
most sour on how he has handled the economy, with 60 percent of
respondents disapproving and only 37 percent approving.
"They continue to be grumpy about the war in Afghanistan, the war in
Iraq, they're pessimistic about the prospects of solving the Iran
problem," David Harris, AJC's executive director, told JTA. "But they're
grumpiest about the economy."
Jewish Republicans have been attacking Obama on both foreign policy and on the economy lately.
“We'll be talking about domestic issues like the economy, like we did in
2010 and 2009,” said Matthew Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s
executive director. Republican efforts to win over Jews in 2008 focused
almost entirely on the issue of Israel, and Obama captured 78 percent of
the Jewish vote.
In AJC's latest poll, there's a virtual tie in the president's approval
and disapproval levels on foreign policy, with 47 percent of Jews
approving of Obama's performance versus 48 percent disapproving.
More troubling for Democrats was the drop in perceptions of how Obama
handled the US-Israel relationship, with 53 percent disapproving and 40
percent approving this year, as opposed to 45 percent disapproving and
49 percent approving last year.
David A. Harris, the National Jewish Democratic Council’s president --
and no relation to the AJC director -- noted the difference between
Obama’s approval level on Israel policy and Jewish Americans' sunnier
view of the overall US-Israel relationship, with 63 percent
characterizing it as either very or somewhat positive.
“It’s like going to a restaurant and saying ‘I love the food, but I
don’t like the chef,'” he said. “That places in stark relief a
communications and messaging problem.”
Brooks, however, disagreed. “I don't think they have a messaging
problem; they have a policy problem, and that's what the campaigns are
going to be about,” he said.
The RJC has emphasized the Obama administration’s willingness to make
public its differences with the government of Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu over settlements and peace talks.
Democrats, for their part, have stepped up their efforts to reach out to
Jewish voters, especially in the wake of their loss in a special
congressional election earlier this month in a New York district that is
both heavily Jewish and a traditional Democratic stronghold.
Meanwhile, American Jews' approval of Netanyahu's handling of the
US-Israel relationship dropped, too, to 54 percent approving and 32
percent disapproving, from 62 percent approving and 27 percent
disapproving last year.
The Synovate-run poll, which surveyed 800 Jewish respondents by phone
between September 6 and September 21, came before Obama delivered a
speech to the UN General Assembly in which he strongly defended Israeli
security needs. He noted the violence Israel has faced from its
neighbors and referred to Israel as the Jewish people's "historic
While Obama's approval ratings have taken a nosedive, the survey does
not show very high levels of Jewish support for any of the leading
Republicans hoping to challenge him in 2012. Presented with hypothetical
match-ups of Obama against various Republican candidates, respondents
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who is perceived as the
most moderate of the top Republican contenders, performed the best
against Obama. Romney garnered the backing of 32 percent of respondents,
as opposed to the president's 50 percent. The remainder of the
respondents either said they favored neither candidate or were not sure.
Texas Governor Rick Perry earned the favor of 25 percent of respondents
to Obama's 55 percent, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was supported
by 19 percent to the president's 59 percent. By way of comparison, Sen.
John McCain (R-Ariz.) earned 22 percent of the Jewish vote in the 2008
Perry and Bachmann are in a fierce competition for the approval of the
Republican Party's more conservative wing, and the AJC's Harris said the
survey's findings offer a lesson for Republicans hoping to peel off
Jewish voters from the Democratic Party.
"For the Republicans, the message is you could win more votes in 2012,
but it's not a given, and there is a quite a spread between the
candidate viewed as most moderate and the ones who are more
conservative," Harris said.
Brooks had a different view, saying that Perry’s lower numbers were a
result of his not yet being a known quantity among American Jews. “Rick
Perry has been in the race about a month at this point, so a lot of
people have not got to know him,” Brooks said.
The big chunks of undecided respondents in the match-ups suggest a
lesson for Democrats as well, the AJC’s Harris said. "You still have the
solid support of many Jewish voters, but don't take it for granted," he
said. "You have to make your case better than you have until now."
With the exceptions of three questions about Obama's handling of
immigration, energy and the economy, the AJC's survey did not cover
domestic affairs. Instead it focused largely on Israel, Iran and other
Respondents struck a pessimistic notes on America's two foreign wars,
with 46 percent saying the United States is losing the war in Iraq, as
opposed to 38 percent who said it is winning, while 61 percent said it
is losing in Afghanistan, and only 26 percent felt it is winning.
Asked about Palestinians' pursuit of statehood recognition absent talks
with Israel, 88 percent of respondents said they were opposed.
Seventy-three percent of respondents supported pulling US aid from the
Palestinian Authority if it enters a unity government with Hamas. A
nearly unanimous 96 percent said the Palestinians should have to
recognize Israel as a Jewish state in any final peace agreement.
Opinions were roughly evenly divided on the Obama administration's
handling of the Iranian nuclear issue, with 43 percent signaling
approval and 45 percent saying they disapproved. Seventy-one percent
said they thought there was either little or no chance that sanctions or
diplomacy could stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. If diplomacy
and sanctions fail, 56 percent said they would support American
military action to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and 68
percent said they would back Israeli action.
Regarding party affiliation, 45 percent of respondents said they were
Democrats, 16 percent said they were Republicans and 38 percent said
they were independents. Religious affiliation broke down as follows: 29
percent Reform, 22 percent Conservative, 9 percent Orthodox, 1 percent
Reconstructionist and 37 percent “just Jewish.”
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