Is it Israel or the economy, stupid?

Is it Israel or the economy, stupid?

Assessing why Obama's Jewish numbers are down

The numbers do not lie: Barack Obama’s favorability ratings among Jews are down by as much as 18 points. Jews, however, still like the president more than do Americans in general.

The drop, from the 78 points the president received in the November 2008 election 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 terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

News AnalysisObama’s overall approval is currently at 46 percent.

The question is whether Obama’s popularity dip among Jews since 2008 stems from the same cause as his fall generally – the economy – 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 is the economy; Republicans say it is Israel.

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

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

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

Gallup would seem to agree with the Democrats. The polling organization says Jews are less happy with Obama because of the fiscal picture.

“Gallup’s monthly trend in 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 company said in a July 5 analysis. “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.”

That tracks with American Jewish Committee polling that for years has shown Jewish voters consistently prioritize the economy over Israel when they enter the polling booth. In a poll last fall that showed Obama with an approval rating of just 51 percent, those who approved of his Israel policy slightly outnumbered those who disapproved, 49 to 45 percent, while disapproval of the his handling of the economy was at 51 percent, as opposed to 45 percent who approved.

The AJC polls also show Jewish voters consistently listing Israel as fifth among their priorities, outranked by such issues as the economy, health care and broader foreign policy concerns.

Gallup’s weekly tracking polls survey 21,000 Americans, 350 of whom are Jewish. The organization decided to take a closer look at the Jewish response following the appearance of a column on the Politico website. Written by Ben Smith, it forecast Jewish problems for Obama in the 2012 election.

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.

“Aggregated Gallup Daily tracking interviews for the month and half periods prior to and following the speech show no significant nor sustained shift in Jewish Americans’ views toward Obama,” Gallup said. “Sixty-five percent approved of him for the April 1-May 18 time period, and 62 percent approved from May 19-June 30. Across the two time periods, approval was also essentially flat among all U.S. adults.”

In fairness to Smith, his analysis, based on what he said was dozens of interviews, focused more 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.

Republicans, however, argue that Obama’s policies on Israel may be rupturing traditional Jewish support for the Democratic Party, which 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 called “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.

“Triggering the increasing Jewish disaffection with Obama is opposition to his proposal that an Israeli return to ’67 borders be the starting point of peace negotiations,” Morris wrote in an Op-Ed for The Hill, a daily that covers Congress.

But Morris refused to share his data with JTA beyond his Hill Op-Ed. He also would not say whether he asked respondents to what degree issues other than Israel influenced the negative views of Obama among Jews, or whether he framed his questions in ways that may have been skewed to elicit negative responses, a charge some of his critics have made.

According to his column in The Hill, Morris framed Obama’s proposals this way: “President Obama says that Israel should give up the land it occupied after the 1967 war except for some adjustments. He says that these borders would give the Palestinians a viable nation of their own and would lead to a settlement of their conflict with Israel.

Others disagree, saying that these borders are too small, exposing Israel to shelling from the Golan Heights in the north and giving the nation a middle only nine miles wide. They say that returning to the pre-’67 borders would not stop the Arabs from wanting to destroy Israel but would make it easier to do so. Which view comes closest to your own?”

That wording, say critics, seems to ignore any notion of territorial adjustments. It also ignores the president’s insistence on security guarantees for Israel and for a Palestinian state that is de-militarized.

Morris told JTA he did not feel he had to include those qualifications in the question because they were understood to be established U.S. policy.

JTA Wire Service

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