(photo credit: Courtesy)
Those looking for a possible shift in the Jewish vote in 2012 may find
encouragement in a new finding that only 45 percent of Jews approve of President
Obama’s handling of his job.
The survey, commissioned by the American
Jewish Committee (AJC), came out, by coincidence, soon after last month’s
special election to fill a New York congressional seat. Many observers surmised
that the Republican victory indicated that the tide is beginning to turn and the
GOP may have an opportunity to capitalize on a perceived shift in the Jewish
electorate, a majority of which has traditionally gone Democrat in national
While New York’s ninth district is hardly a barometer of the
American Jewish community, the end to a 90-year Democratic hold on that seat
spurred President Obama and several Republican contenders for the White House to
step up outreach for Jewish support. That competition is likely to intensify as
the Republican field continues to narrow.
Presently, President Obama
still holds a majority of the Jewish vote against Mitt Romney and other GOP
candidates. However, the AJC survey also found significant numbers who would not
choose the incumbent or any of the contenders. That wiggle room may raise
expectations in some quarters, though any giddiness is
Flexibility is seen in a potential contest where Mitt Romney
would get 32% and Obama would win 50% of the Jewish vote, but 16% said they
would not vote for either candidate, and another 2% are undecided.
number of those unready to decide between Obama and the Republican opponent was
higher if the GOP candidate is Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann.
would garner 25% of the vote against Obama’s 55%, with another 18% voting for
neither, and 2% undecided.
Bachmann would receive 19% of the vote against
Obama’s 59%, with 21% choosing neither, and 1% undecided.
Add to this mix
of uncertainty the growing numbers who identify as Independents.
years ago AJC found that 15% of Jews said they are Republicans, 58% Democrats
and 26% Independents. Today, Independents are 38%, while Democrats comprise 45%,
and Republicans another 16% of Jewish voters.
One distinguishing segment
is the Orthodox, who account for about 9% of the national Jewish population.
While more Orthodox identify with the Republican Party than do Conservative or
Reform Jews, 43% of Orthodox Jews say they are Independents.
ORTHODOX Jews do hold the most negative opinion, as a group, of the incumbent.
While 72% of Orthodox Jews disapprove, and 18% approve, of President Obama’s
handling of his job as president, the other two major denominations are more
evenly split. Among Conservative Jews 46% approve and 48% disapprove.
Reform Jews 48% approve and 44% disapprove.
It is among the Orthodox
Jews, as a group, that one finds the strongest feelings regarding any
president’s attitudes toward Israel. Among those surveyed, Orthodox Jews
consistently emerge as having traveled to Israel more often and expressing a
higher degree of closeness to Israel.
Yet, while most American Jews care
about Israel and US-Israel relations, Jews, like other Americans, are first
concerned about domestic issues. AJC’s 2010 survey, conducted before the
congressional elections, found that the economy, unemployment and health care
were the top issues, not Israel, for most Jewish voters when weighing which
candidates to support.
In fact, the biggest disappointment for Jews that
influences their view of President Obama’s performance is the state of the
economy, with 37% approving and 60% disapproving. The overall 45% approval of
Obama among Jews still is higher than the president’s rating in the general
There are no ironclad assumptions about Jewish
voting. What is clear is how risky it is to predict how American Jews might cast
their votes next November.The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s
director of media relations.