Poll: Jews still favor Kerry, but Bush shows small gain

washington | With less than two months before the presidential election, a new survey shows a small bump for President Bush in the American Jewish vote.

Each side of the political spectrum has different spin for these results.

The nonpartisan poll, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, found Jews backing Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over Bush by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.

Bush received 24 percent of respondents’ support in the poll, a 5 percent increase from his performance among Jewish voters in the 2000 presidential election. Kerry received 69 percent support among those polled in the new survey.

Democrats say the poll is another sign that Bush’s messages to the Jewish community are not resonating, while Republicans say it shows Kerry lagging behind recent Jewish support for the Democratic Party’s candidate.

The annual poll of Jewish views showed a majority of American Jews disapprove of the U.S. government’s handling of the war against terrorism and the war in Iraq.

It also found wide support in the Jewish community for Israel’s current policies in the Middle East, such as unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank security barrier.

The Bush/Cheney campaign has been working hard to garner additional Jewish support this election season, capitalizing on support within the Jewish community for Bush’s policies on Israel.

But while many tout anecdotal shifts to the Bush camp among Jews, polling data continues to suggest that Jews will not substantially change their alliance with the Democratic Party in November.

Market Facts conducted the American Jewish Committee poll, in which 1,000 Jews were surveyed during the course of two weeks last month. Three percent of respondents backed independent candidate Ralph Nader and 5 percent were undecided.

The results of the poll, which has a 3 percentage points margin of error, are similar to other surveys of the Jewish vote done within the last year.

A National Jewish Democratic Council poll last month had Kerry garnering 75 percent to Bush’s 22 percent, and last year’s American Jewish Committee poll, taken before the Democratic primaries, had Bush getting 31 percent to Kerry’s 59 percent in a theoretical match-up.

The American Jewish Committee polls did not seek likely or registered voters, only survey respondents. Market Facts maintains a pool of respondents who have said they are Jewish, and randomly dials from that pool to reach Jews.

But Republicans see the numbers differently, touting Bush’s improvement in Jewish support from 2000.

“If these numbers hold, the president will do significantly better than he did in 2000,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “Thirty percent movement is by any measure a significant measure.”

Republicans have been engaged in a strong effort to woo Jewish voters. The White House published a 23-page booklet touting Bush’s support for Jewish issues and the party held events geared toward the Orthodox community at the Republican National Convention last month in New York.

“The Republicans were never going to win a majority of Jewish voters,” said Ken Goldstein, professor of political science and Judaic studies at the University of Wisconsin. “It was always going to be about trying to steal a few, and it matters where those eight, nine, 10 are coming from.’