Obamas Jewish numbers are down but why exactly

The numbers don’t lie: President Barack Obama’s favorability ratings among Jews are down by as much as 18 points over the past two-and-a-half years. However, Jews still like the president more than Americans in general.

The drop, from 78 points when Obama was elected in November 2008 to 60 in a Gallup survey in June, is not really news.

For months, Obama has been scoring in the low 60s when it comes to Jewish approval. The only interruption was in May, when his popularity spiked in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Now the overall approval of Obama is at 46 percent.

The question is whether Obama’s Jewish popularity dip since 2008 stems from the same cause of his fall generally — persistent economic problems — or whether it has to do with the president’s policies on Israel.

Apparently the interpretation depends on who is answering: Democrats and Gallup say it’s the economy; Republicans say it’s Israel.

“If the economy were better, he would be doing not insignificantly better with the Jewish community — as well as other constituencies,” said Ira Forman, a former director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, has a different take.


President Barack Obama speaks in the White House briefing room July 11. photo/ap/carolyn kaster

“President Obama’s actions have ensured that a wide swath of the Jewish vote is ‘in play’ for 2012,” Brooks wrote on his blog.


In a July 5 analysis, Gallup wrote that the trend of “Jewish approval of Obama continues to roughly follow the path of all Americans’ approval of the president, more generally, as it has since Obama took office in January 2009. The 14-percentage-point difference in the two groups’ approval ratings in June — 60 percent among U.S. Jews vs. 46 percent among all U.S. adults — is identical to the average gap seen over the past two-and-a-half years.”

For years, American Jewish Committee polling has shown Jewish voters consistently prioritize the economy over Israel when they enter the polling booth. Moreover, AJC polls show Jewish voters consistently listing Israel as fifth among their priorities, behind the economy, health care and broader foreign policy concerns.

Gallup was inspired to dip into the Jewish numbers of its weekly tracking polls, which survey 21,000 Americans, because of a recent column by Ben Smith at Politico.

In forecasting Jewish problems for Obama ahead of the 2012 election year, Smith said that Obama’s May 19 Middle East policy speech — in which he called for negotiations with the Palestinians based on the pre-1967 lines with land swaps — had shaken Jewish confidence in the president.

Gallup checked its data from 350 Jewish respondents for six-week periods before and after the Obama speech and reported “no significant nor sustained shift in Jewish Americans’ views toward Obama.” The shift went from 65 percent approval to 62 percent.

In fairness to Smith, his analysis focused on the Jewish elites who more closely track U.S. Middle East policy, and emphasized the effect on Jewish donations to Obama’s campaign more than it did the Jewish vote.

But Republicans argue that Obama’s policies on Israel may be rupturing Jewish support for the Democratic Party that has not dipped below 73 percent since 1988 (when Michael Dukakis received 64 percent of the Jewish vote against George H.W. Bush).

Dick Morris, a political consultant whose latest book is “Revolt!: How to Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Programs,” says his recent polling of 1,000 Jewish voters showed a drop to

56 percent approval for Obama.

In an Op-Ed for the Hill, a daily that covers Congress, Morris pinned the drop to “his proposal that an Israeli return to ’67 borders be the starting point of peace negotiations.”

But Morris refused to share his data and the nature of his questions with JTA. He did give an example of one question, which left out the fact that Obama insisted on security guarantees for Israel and issued a call for a non-militarized Palestinian state.

Morris said that he did not feel he had to include those qualifications in the question as they were understood as established U.S. policy.

Ron Kampeas

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