I've written about this too many times to count over the past four-plus years here at MyDD, and folks have been writing about it for even longer than that, but I'm always still a little surprised when I see an article like the one in today's New York Times suggesting that Jewish voters are unhappy with the Democratic Party or its standard bearer.
At the first Hanukkah party in the Obama White House, a Jewish student choir will sing in sweet harmony, the two young children of a soldier deployed in Iraq will light a 19th-century silver menorah from Prague and President Obama and his wife, Michelle, will greet more than 500 guests in a celebration that is expected to spill from the State Room to the East Room.
But to the dismay of some administration officials, the plans for next week's party -- one of the hottest holiday events for the nation's Jewish elite -- have been overtaken by feverish debate over the size of the guest list, the language on the invitations and what this says (or does not say) about Mr. Obama's relationship with Jews.
President George W. Bush, who began the tradition of White House Hanukkah parties, invited 600 people to his last party, administration officials say. But rumors spread wildly, first in the Israeli press and then locally, that President Bush had invited 800 people and that the Obamas were planning to invite only 400. (Administration officials say they have invited 550 people.)
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Lubavitcher Rabbi who kashered the White House kitchen in preparation for the Hanukkah celebration, summed up the hubbub best, saying, "This is all one big overblown latke," the rabbi said. Indeed. Jewish voters aren't so unsavvy as to be duped by an op-ed penned by former Bush administration official into believing that Barack Obama is abandoning their community by inviting 550 people this year instead of the 500 or fewer guests George W. Bush generally invited to the event. (Jewish voters also didn't sour on George W. Bush merely because, as noted in the article, his White House put -- no joke -- a Christmas tree on their Hanukkah invitations one year.)
They also, despite the spin from the right now and in the past, aren't on the verge of abandoning the Democratic Party. According to polling released this fall, Jewish voters remain among the most loyal supporters of the President -- not at all surprising considering that the community has given the Democratic Party between 78 percent and 87 percent of its support in recent elections.
So feel free to move along. There really is no story here (despite the article's presence in The Times today).
"There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves," Ulmer and Merwin wrote. "By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina and instead using actual bills, DeMint is watching our nation's pennies and trying to preserve our country's wealth and our economy's viability to give all an opportunity to succeed."
A small band of Jewish conservatives seem to be able to convince the media every couple of years that Jewish voters are on the verge of flipping to the Republicans. Yet what they miss, in addition to serious policy differences between Republicans and the vast majority of Jewish voters (who voted 87 percent Democratic and 78 percent percent Democratic in 2008), is the massive cultural void separating conservative Republicans and American Jews. The rather shocking statement above is a testament to this divide, which frankly doesn't appear to be shrinking. At some point, presumably, the Beltway press is going to get this, no?
On the heels of an AJC survey suggesting that American Jews may be cooling towards President Obama, Gallup releases its own numbers suggesting that just isn't the case.
Two-thirds of white Jews (66%) approve of the job Obama is doing, compared with 44% of whites nationwide, 45% of white Catholics, and 37% of white Protestants. (The "Protestant" category includes both those who identify themselves as Protestants, and those who identify themselves as Christians but not Catholics.)
The higher level of Jewish approval of Obama compared to approval from those of other religions conforms with the much greater Democratic orientation of Jews, politically. Two-thirds of Jews overall identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, a much greater proportion than Gallup finds for any other religious group.
Overall, Barack Obama's approval rating among Jewish voters stands at 64 percent -- down from a high of 83 percent around the time of the inauguration, but still a robust number. What's more, considering that polling of American Jews tends to dramatically underestimate Jewish voters' support for Democratic candidates -- it has happened consistently in recent elections even as Democrats have performed astonishingly well among the community over the past several decades (most recently with John Kerry winning 78 percent (.pdf) of the two-party Jewish vote in 2004, Democratic House candidates winning 87 percent of the Jewish vote in 2006, and Barack Obama carrying 78 percent of Jewish voters in 2008) -- the fact that President Obama still earns the support of close to two-thirds of American Jews is quite impressive.
It won't come as much of a surprise to those who actually have followed the numbers, but it looks like Barack Obama is overwhelmingly carrying the Jewish vote. Ben Smith has the numbers.
For all the ink and money spilled on McCain's hopes of making inroads into the Jewish vote, exit polls suggest Obama won the demographic by a margin even higher than John Kerry's, and like Al Gore's and Bill Clinton's.
The exits currently have it at 78 percent to 21 percent.
We have this conversation every four years, and have had it for longer than I've been alive -- are Jewish voters on the verge of defecting the Democratic coalition? Of course the evidence for this trend, which is apparently always on the horizon, is scant. But nevertheless, every four years, the punditry, goaded on by smooth talking Republican strategists, plays the role of the concern troll and wonders whether Jewish voters would be joining the Republican coalition. Well wonder no longer.
Jewish voters nationwide have grown increasingly comfortable with voting for Barack Obama for president since the Illinois senator secured the Democratic nomination in June. They now favor Obama over John McCain by more than 3 to 1, 74% to 22%.
The Obama/Biden ticket is poised to perform about on par with other recent Democratic presidential tickets when it comes to support from American Jewish voters.
The nomination of Sarah Palin, who as recently as two weeks before she was added to the GOP ticket had attended an address by the founder of "Jews for Jesus" and who (to put it lightly) is not very attuned to the concerns of Jewish Americans, certainly did a great deal to help assuage the concerns of the few Jewish voters who had previously been reluctant to back the Democratic ticket this fall. The general trend within the electorate did a great deal to help move the Jewish vote, too (as The Solomon Project [.pdf] has shown, Jews tend to move with the electorate, albeit about 30 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole).
But more than the specifics, this polling provides an yet another opportunity to call to question some of the wholly unfounded and unsubstantiated prattling of pundits this campaign season. Barack Obama can't win Hispanics, they said (though he's actually beating John McCain by better than a 2-to-1 margin). Obama can't unite the Democratic Party, they predicted (though he's pulling in a greater share of Democrats than McCain is pulling in of Republicans). Obama might be the first Democrat to lose the Jewish vote. How wrong were they. As I asked earlier today, isn't it about time for the establishment media to put on those who understand today's electorate and political environment, not those who are stuck in a reality that went the way of the car phone and Beverly Hills 90210 (well, the original one, at least)?
This polling also gives me the opportunity to pass on this ad, which is apparently running these days in Florida -- and specifically the part of the state that is really Flahrida.