GOP balks at polls showing 75% of Jews back Kerry

washington | Three years of extraordinarily close relations with Israel, tough talk toward the Palestinians and historic decisions favoring the Jewish state have done virtually nothing to build support for President Bush among U.S. Jewish voters, according to new data from a Democratic pollster. Republican Jewish groups immediately denounced the results as partisan and skewed.

Likely U.S. Jewish voters favor Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over Bush by 75 percent to 22 percent in the coming presidential election, according to a poll published Monday, Aug. 16, by the National Jewish Democratic Council.

With a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, that’s a statistical tie with the 19 percent Bush scored among Jewish voters in the 2000 elections, according to exit polls at the time — and bad news for Republicans scrambling for Jewish voters in key swing states like Florida.

Republicans immediately blasted the results.

“Something smells here,” said Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “It’s right in the middle of the Democratic convention, that taints it right off the bat. That environment would make it extremely skewed.”

Republican spokesmen said they would not read too much into the poll, considering the source.

“This is a partisan poll put out by a partisan organization,” said Michael Lebovitz, the Bush-Cheney campaign’s Jewish outreach official.

“There’s been literally no progress in outreach to the Jewish community on the part of the Bush administration and the Bush campaign,” said Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a firm with ties to the Democratic Party. The firm carried out the poll of 817 respondents from July 26-28.

Kerry predictably scored much better on domestic issues such as health care, abortion and church and state relations — areas Republicans have all but forgone in their outreach to the Jewish community.

More significantly, Kerry scored higher than Bush on how close respondents felt to each candidate’s positions on Israel, the key thrust of the Bush campaign’s outreach to Jews. Kerry out-polled Bush 51 to 24 percent in that respect.

“The Israel issue itself, there was very little traction for Bush on it,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said the polling ended a day before Kerry’s acceptance speech at the convention and that media coverage until that point would not have affected voters.

The poll departed from previous methodology by sending e-mail invitations to tens of thousands of respondents selected from a sample of two million Americans purchased from a third-party vendor. The only skewing in the selection was geographic, according to areas where Jews are more likely to live. Those who responded as being Jewish were invited to continue the poll on the Web.

Earlier polling had suggested shifts toward Bush.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said Greenberg’s poll showed signs of a slide in the other direction. Harris said his organization would come out with its own poll next month.

Republicans hoped Bush’s record in office would change those perceptions, and indeed for a time it did. Bush scored high in AJCommittee approval polls after the Sept. 11 attacks and — in the first poll matching him against prospective Democrats, late last year — he scored 31 percent against Kerry, approaching Reagan-era numbers.

But his failure to make a lasting impact could be attributed in part to Kerry’s pro-Israel outreach in recent months: The Democratic Party platform, for instance, repeats Bush’s assurances to Israel on the West Bank and refugees. “The Kerry campaign has been vigorously pursuing Jewish voters and emphasizing Kerry’s pro-Israel record,” Harris said.

However, the 51-24 gap favoring Kerry on his Israel policies suggests that a majority of American Jews don’t favor Bush’s backing for Ariel Sharon’s tough policies, and appreciate Kerry’s commitment to multilateralism in international affairs.

Also, U.S. Jews reflect the growing trend among Americans to perceive the Iraq war as a danger to U.S. interests in the Middle East, including Israel.

Harris, however, cautioned that the poll — while good news for Kerry — was just a snapshot.

“There are nearly three months to go, there’s a Republican Party convention, a lot can happen between now and November to shift voters,” he said. “The Republican Party is not rolling over and playing dead. We’re seeing a lot of material from the Republican Party making its case to Jewish voters.”

The real winner, Harris suggested, was the Jewish community, assiduously courted by both sides. “The key for me is that the Jewish votes is still very much in play. Both parties are making a concerted effort to go after the Jewish vote.’

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.