President Obama may be enjoying a slight, if likely temporary, bounce in the polls this week. But one of the surveys showing him with a lead in a tight race over Mitt Romney also provides a breakdown of the data that confirms predictions that he is losing up to a quarter of the Jewish votes he got in 2008.
The Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP Poll gives a breakdown of religion along with other demographic groups and shows Obama leading among Jews by a margin of 59 to 35 percent with six percent undecided. While that is still a majority, it is a dramatic decline from the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he got four years ago.
Obama has a 46-44 percent lead over Romney in the TIPP poll. That means Obama is suffering from a decline in support throughout the electorate from his 2008 victory when he won 53 percent of the vote. But the president’s loss of approximately 25 percent of Jewish voters this year is not matched by a similar decline in any other demographic group. Indeed, even in the unlikely event that Obama wins almost all the undecided voters in the survey, that would barely match Michael Dukakis’s 64 percent of Jewish votes in 1988.
Far more likely is a result that would leave the president with the lowest total of Jewish votes since 1980 when Jimmy Carter received 45 percent in a three-way race with Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. While some losses in Jewish support could be put down to disillusionment with his economic policies that is shared across the board, the only conceivable explanation for this far greater than average loss of Jewish votes is the administration’s difficult relationship with Israel.
Over the past year, Jewish Democrats have scoffed at predictions of a dramatic loss of support for Obama. The president’s attitude toward Israel was a major issue in the special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District and allowed Republican Bob Turner to steal a longtime Democratic stronghold with a disproportionately large Jewish population. But Democrats dismissed that result as an outlier and have been predicting that the president, who has conducted an election year charm offensive toward Jewish voters after three years of constant fights with Israel, would recoup any potential losses by election day.
Given the fact that a majority of Jews identify as liberals, the Republican Party’s social conservatism would seem to set up Romney for the same shellacking among Jewish voters that every GOP candidate has received since 1988. Instead, the TIPP poll shows him threatening to rival Ronald Reagan’s modern record set in 1980 when he won 39 percent of Jewish votes, the most by a Republican since World War One. Since it is unreasonable to assume that Jews are more riled up about the economy than any other faith or demographic group, the only possible explanation for this stunning result is dissatisfaction with Obama on Israel.
While Jews constitute a tiny portion of the total electorate, anything close to a 59-35 percent result could have a major impact on the outcome in Florida with its large Jewish community. But it could also be meaningful elsewhere, especially if states like Pennsylvania or Ohio turn out to be close.
This problem was highlighted by last week’s fiasco at the Democratic National Convention when pro-Israel language was first removed from the party’s platform and then clearly not supported by the majority of delegates when some of it was put back into the document. The spectacle of the majority of Democratic delegates on the flower booing when both God and Jerusalem were put back into their platform will linger with viewers. Though Jewish Democrats like Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz have sought to dismiss this incident as a non-story, the TIPP poll illustrates its importance.
For decades, Jewish Republicans have sought a GOP candidate who could equal Reagan’s achievement but they were mistaken. They needed a Democratic opponent like Jimmy Carter and in President Obama they may well have found one.
Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.