Polling the US Jewish Community

, July 29, 2011

Israel Hayom http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=247 

A series of polls on U.S. Jewish opinion were published during July and have created a storm of controversy. The first poll was released on July 5, by Dick Morris, the former strategist of former President Bill Clinton, who in recent years has become a strong critic of President Barack Obama and a frequent commentator on Fox News. Morris wrote up his results in The Hill, a Washington insider daily newspaper. The most politically dramatic finding within the poll was that President Obama would only obtain 56 percent of the Jewish vote if the elections were held today, instead of the 78% that he won in 2008.

Historically, the U.S. Jewish community has backed presidential candidates from the Democratic Party. President Kennedy won 82% of the Jewish vote in 1960. His successor, President Johnson won 92% in 1964, while under President Jimmy Carter, American Jewish support for the democratic candidate reached a low point; with only 45% backing Carter while 39% supported Ronald Reagan (15% backed the independent candidate, John Anderson).

In 1992, President Clinton obtained 80% of Jewish support, while President George H.W. Bush nosedived to having only 10% support in the U.S. Jewish community. If Morris’s numbers were correct, then Obama is going to face a serious problem with Jewish voters in 2012, which could have implications for the results in states where the race could be very close, like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The credibility of Morris’ poll came under attack within two days in an analysis in the Washington Jewish Week, which criticized his refusal to take questions about the poll and to unveil his methodology. What particularly did not make sense, according to the article, was that a Gallup poll published at the same time found that Obama’s approval rating among American Jews was 60%, and did not seem to be dramatically dropping the way that Morris had described.

A second major poll came out on July 12 that was conducted by a Democratic pollster, Patt Caddell, who was a campaign strategist for President Jimmy Carter, and Republican pollster, John McLaughlin, who has worked with leading politicians, like House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor. The poll, that specifically focused on American Jewish voters, was sponsored by a new organization called SecureAmericaNow.org, which, unlike Morris, released many of the details of the poll on its website. Moreover, both pollsters were available to the media and took questions in telephone-held press conferences.

Like the Gallup poll, the Caddell-McLaughlin poll found that American Jewish voters generally like Obama. According to the poll, they still had a favorable opinion of him (64% to 31%); moreover, they gave him a job approval rating of 63%. J Street published a third poll on July 21, showing that American Jews gave Obama a 60% approval rating as well, though it showed that 56% disapproved of his handling of Arab-Israeli diplomacy.

The Caddell-McLaughlin poll, however, does indicate that Obama’s Jewish support is really soft, with only 43% having said they would vote to re-elect Obama. The reasons why his support has dropped, according to the Caddell-McLaughin poll, has largely to do with their perceptions of Obama’s policy toward Israel.

What makes the Caddell-McLaughlin poll especially interesting is the support shown within the American Jewish community for certain fundamental Israeli positions: 81% are against forcing Israel back to the 1967 lines; 73% believe that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel; 88% believe that before the Palestinians are given their own state, they must recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

While the voting preferences of the American Jewish voter are not Israel’s business, the Caddell-McLaughlin poll indicates just how important it is for Israel to communicate its policies. Israel must not express its preference for either candidate in 2012 and should maintain good ties with both major parties. What is legitimate for Israel to assure is that whether the Democrats or the Republicans win in 2012, the American political system will still back Israel’s most vital concerns in the years ahead, as it has in the past

Amb. Dore Gold

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.