Are Jews Really Down on Obama?
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 03:04:41 PM EDT
Via Ben Smith comes new polling showing Barack Obama leading Jon McCain among Jewish voters -- though now performing as well within the group as John Kerry or Al Gore. But does that mean Obama is really destined to earn significantly fewer Jewish votes in 2008 than his most recent predecessors? First, the numbers:
The survey, commissioned by the Washington-based advocacy organization J Street, found that only 58 percent of American Jews said they would definitely vote for Obama, an Illinois senator. Another 4 percent said they were leaning toward the presumptive Democratic nominee.
In contrast, Al Gore and Bill Clinton both drew approximately 80 percent of the Jewish vote in their respective runs for the presidency, while John Kerry garnered about 76 percent in 2004.
Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they would vote for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), with 3 percent saying they were leaning toward the presumptive GOP nominee. That would represent a higher showing among Jews than the 24 percent President Bush drew in 2004.
First, the poll quotes incorrect numbers for George W. Bush's support among the Jewish community in 2004 -- Kerry actually beat Bush by a 78 percent to 22 percent margin (.pdf) in the two-party Jewish vote, and thus received less than 22 percent of the vote overall.
Second, the survey asked the heads up question towards the end of the poll -- and, even more problematically, just six questions after asking voters whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view towards the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. That's not the way to get accurate data.
And the numbers overall don't sound terribly on the mark. Despite the fact that Jewish voters backed Democratic House candidates by at least a 76 percent to 22 percent margin in 2004 and an 87 percent to 12 percent margin in 2006, the survey has the Democrats leading by just a 69 percent to 27 percent margin among Jewish voters in the generic congressional ballot question. Outside of some or any explanation of this, I'm just not buying it. These numbers don't really pass the smell test.
But beyond that, it's worth noting a few things about where Jewish voters were at a similar point in the 2004 cycle. Here are some numbers I noted in a post a couple months back: "[P]olling at the outset of the Democratic race in late 2003/early 2004 showed Kerry, as well as most of the other Democratic contenders at the time, beating Bush among American Jews by only about 60 percent to 30 percent margin. Even Joe Lieberman only carried the Jewish vote in a hypothetical head-to-head match up at the time by a 71 percent to 24 percent margin. And as late in the game as September 2004, polling indicated that Kerry only led Bush in this subgroup by a 69 percent to 24 percent margin even though he ended wup winning by about a net dozen points more."
So when folks trumpet polling like this to argue that Obama is uniquely weak among the Jewish community, perhaps they would be well served to look at the fuller picture -- that polling has shown similar trends in the past only to be proven wrong come election day when Jewish voters come home to the Democratic Party.