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Sitting Duck

Barack Obama’s poll numbers are down among Jews—and that’s normal. For more than 30 years, nearly every incumbent president has fared less well among Jews in his re-election effort than in his first campaign.

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Jewish vote for US presidents

A Gallup poll released last week found that President Barack Obama’s approval rating stood at 60 percent among Jewish Americans—an 18 point drop from the 78 percent of Jews who voted for him in 2008.

“The question,” suggested the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas “is whether Obama’s Jewish popularity dip since ’08 stems from the same cause of his fall generally—America’s persistent economic problems—or whether it has to do with the president’s policies on Israel.” He continued: “Apparently the interpretation depends on who is answering. Democrats and Gallup say it’s the economy; Republicans say it’s Israel.”

Yet Kampeas’ either-or reasoning may have missed a more fundamental and intriguing point: Jews almost always turn against a sitting president.

If Barack Obama flew to Israel to offer Benjamin Netanyahu a back rub, he would lose Jewish voters. If he raised, lowered, or kept taxes the same, he would lose Jewish voters. If he learned Yiddish or put a menorah on the flag, he would lose Jewish voters.

For more than 30 years, every incumbent president running for re-election, with a single exception, has lost Jewish supporters in his second campaign.

Running against the unelected incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter won 50 percent of the popular vote and 71 percent of the Jewish vote. Four years later, when he was defeated in his re-election campaign by Ronald Reagan, Carter won 41 percent of the popular vote, a decrease of 9 percentage points, and only 45 percent of the Jewish vote, a remarkable drop of 26 percent points.

In 1984, a wildly popular Reagan won re-election with 59 percent of the popular vote, an 8-point increase over his 1980 share. But Reagan’s percentage of the Jewish vote decreased by 8 percentage points from his first election to the second—which meant he underperformed among Jews relative to the general voting population by 16 points in his re-election effort, just as Carter had in his unsuccessful try four years earlier.

George H.W. Bush fared 24 percentage points worse among Jewish voters in his unsuccessful 1992 re-election effort, while Bill Clinton’s take of the Jewish vote dropped by only 2 percentage points from 1992 to 1996. But because Bush’s performance among the general population also decreased from his first election to his second while Clinton’s improved, both men underperformed by 8 percentage points among Jewish voters relative to the general electorate.

All that said, the majority of Jewish voters are loyal. Even in a very bad year, a Democratic presidential candidate can be assured of at least 45 percent of the Jewish vote. Another 14 percent of Jews—like those who voted for third-party candidates like John Anderson in 1980, who got 14 percent of the Jewish vote, or Ross Perot in 1992, who polled 9 percent of Jews—might not vote for a Democrat but still won’t vote for a Republican. There’s 10 percent of American Jews who will reliably vote for a Republican presidential candidate, plus 9 percent who may vote independent but won’t vote for a Democrat, based on this historical data.

That leaves about 22 percent of Jewish voters up for grabs, most of whom at least lean Democratic. In 2008, Obama won 82 percent of these toss-up Jews. This gave him 78 percent of the Jewish electorate compared to the 53 percent of the general electorate.

The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from all this—that Obama will inevitably lose Jewish voters in 2012—will make a fine talking point for Jewish Republicans. But Democrats of a more optimistic bent might look to recent history for hope. In 2004, George W. Bush bucked the trend and increased his initially scant Jewish vote by 5 percentage points, compared to a popular-vote increase of 3 percentage points. (Republicans would likely argue that Bush’s increase in Jewish support was hardly an accident, but rather the clear product of his stance as Israel’s leading supporter and an unshakable friend of its former prime minister, Ariel Sharon.) Perhaps that will become the new trend; after all, from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first re-election through Richard Nixon’s resignation, Jewish support for incumbents increased as predictably as it decreased from Watergate to September 11.

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“nearly every incumbent president has fared less well among Jews in his re-election effort than in his first campaign.”

“Nearly every” – when in fact it’s just 3 out of 5, including 2 who were very anti-Israel and one who on the contrary started unusually as a Republican with high Jewish support and lost only 8%.

So in fact, no, this is not usual. It just proves that Jews understand in the USA as they have for 3 years in Israel that Obama is the worst president ever regarding Israel (and the economy).

Daniel Klein says:

Hi Ben. You’ll notice that it is fact four out of five presidents who have lost support.

Jason M says:

I guess I’ll speak on behalf of the other 75% of Jews who don’t get their daily talking points from Fox News (oddly, a rarity here on Tabletmag).

Those who are duped by the Republicans into thinking Obama is anti-Israel should set aside the spin and examine the facts more carefully. The Republicans have actually thrown Israel under the bus (not any surprise; they’ll throw anyone under the bus for electoral gain) by endorsing a political procrastination that is not good for Israeli Jews.

Myra says:

At this time the alternatives for Jewish voters are so mediocre (or poor), with a particular “Christian” appeal that I cannot see Jewish voters deserting Obama en masse. I don’t think the presence of a Jewish house majority leader will make much of a difference at this point. Cantor’s childish, stubborn behavior in the current budget negotiations will boomerang. Dan Klein’s analysis in this instance is, in my opinion, just plain wrong.

sharon says:

George Bush, by not continuing Clintons talks with Israel and the Palestinians, did more to hurt Israel then any other President. And by his unnecessary war in Iraq (except for the benefit of his good friends, Halliburton and Blackwater)he created further chaos in the middle east. At least in the past Iraq and Iran were only fighting and killing each other. Now they are killing Americans and doing what they can to hurt Israel. The so-called Arab spring is another example of these disruptions-these countries are light years away from becoming democracies and will only make it worse for Israel.
Any Jew that will vote for these right wing lunatics have forgotten what happened in Germany. Obama is not perfect, but he is better then any republican candidate. And by the way, check out Rick Perrys big party for the conservative religious nut cases-happening next week.

Obama has strengthened the enemies of Israel and of Jews worldwide in much of the Middle East and sided with them in US domestic politics.

Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, to name just two Republican candidates, are better friends of Israel and the Jewish people than Obama – just look at the record of statements and actions.

RACHEL B says:

You can try to downplay the FACT that most US Jews who voted for this fraud will NEVER support him again.

You can try to minimize the FACT that this is the most anti-Israel US president in decades, and that this rancor against the Jewish State has been nurtured by his former pastor, his communist friends, his Palestinian apologists colleagues, among others.

You can try to make up numbers and polls alleging that the majority of US Jews remain “loyal” to this fraudster…

But the truth is that most US liberal Jews, stupid as they indeed are, have come to realize exactly who this Hussein Obama character really is… and they will NOT support, contribute, or vote for him ever again.

They know it… and the Great Pretender in the White House knows it.

But author Dan Klein continues his propaganda…

Reuvain says:

Walk into any synagogue, JCC etc. You will hear a different story than this liberal spin. There is a profound disillusionment with Obama over Israel. He torpedoed any peace talks by setting pre-conditions. Attempted to stop building in neighborhoods in Jerusalem that even Abbas said are never going to be under Arab rule. The area he made a tumult about is north of the bus station, far from Arab areas and full of tens of thousands. And now has weakened Israel positions with the statement on 67 borders.

Yes there are those that still support Obama but his support is weakening. Its not some cycle but a deep sense that he has made major blunders in dealing with Israel. Weakened its negotiating position and security.

Reuvain says:

And now the facts it seems the really is liberal spin in the Tablet style.A new poll just out shows Obama support dropping.

neal sturman says:

a friend wrote me during the last year of the bush presidency that there were no jews in his cabinet, actually he had 3. Are there any jews in obama’s cabinet?

Steve says:

If anything, the historical data presented here augurs very poorly for Obama. The 2 presidents who went down the most (over 20%) are universally perceived to be the worst (other than Obama himself) with regard to Israel, namely Carter and Bush I. Clinton and Bush II (and to a lesser extent Reagan) who were perceived to be overall pro-Israel essentially held or increased their share of the Jewish vote. So I read this data as saying it would not be surprising if Obama goes down 20% or more among Jews, since it is hard to argue (putting all the spin aside) that he is generally pereceived to be in the same camp as Carter when it comes to Israel.

Yaakov Hillel says:

I am very dissapointed at the American Jews especially that 60% of them are supporting a person who has been poison for Israel. Has admitted that he Is a Moslem, eventhough during his previous electionaring he swore he was only Christian. The way the man spoke about the holy Koran with the right accent, made it all clear. This is the Man who is supposed to safe guard America from the worlds worse scourge. He makes out he is the Jews best friends when he needs their vote. He cannot say that the Arabs caused the talks to fail, he has to say the Jews and the Arabs Which was untrue. Why do Jews have to bend down so low?

Yaakov Hillel says:

One other point important to remember that Abu Mazzen Who Obama keeps Kowtowing to, received his doctorate in proving that there was no holocaust and he uses for proof things Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. Abu Mazzen is still today naming schools and Squares after suicide bombers who blew them selves up killing Israelis. This man does not really want peace, like Arafat his predecessor he talks with a split tongue he makes out he is for peace out wardly, and he is a warlord when he speaks to his people. I am sure that Obama knows this, if not he is a double danger for America.

Ruthie says:

Our current POTUS is running neck-in-neck with Carter in his policies toward Israel. I can only hope and pray that our liberal Jewish friends will see the light and stop putting a positive spin on what BO is doing. History can repeat itself and they need to be reminded that in Europe most of the Jews refused to take Hitler at his word. Israel depends vitally on US support and it cannot be denied be a president who is predisposed to supporting radical Muslims—SURVIVAL is the issue!!

Rocky says:

Ruthie: Israel depends on a country that is nearly broke. The Republicans aren’t helping in the solvency department. If the US defaults on its financial obligations, it will not be a good day for Israel.

Herb says:

One can only hope that Jews become as smart politically as they are in their work. For a very long time, Jews have been politically the most obtuse people in the country, absolutely addicted to a bankrupt, destructive liberalism. If we are lucky, Obama will be the man to wake them up from their slumber.

G Shapiro says:

I think some facts are in order here.

Eli – Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are “friends” of Israel only because they would love for us Jews to convert to Christianity. These folks are the types of people who are just waiting for Jews to “see the light” by worshiping Christ.

Yaakov – President Obama is not a Muslim, and has NEVER admitted to being one. He also doesn’t follow the lead of Abu Mazzen. You may want to turn the channel away from Fox News.

Finally, in all reality, what makes Americans think that the POTUS can change the way Israelis and Palestinians relate to each other? This is a long and ongoing conflict that was started way before the US was born. Israelis and Palestinians will choose the path they want to take, and no president from the US can make their decisions for them. End of story.

Caroline says:

Je peux vivre sans pain mais pas sans amis !

I will survive without bread but not without friends.

take a look at franch jews and what they do for israel.
(herbert pagani is a famous singer in france):

Why guess on the matter? Just ask any Israeli in Israel. Mr. Klein, did you forget to do so?

Victor says:

It is really sad to see how polarized we have become, and it isn’t just on the web, I see it in my community too. People on both sides repeat some amazingly ignorant things because they have, frankly, just accepted their team’s spin without critical any critical thinking. Then they call people who disagree stupid.

@G. Shapiro: A lot of Christians support Israel and the Jewish People because they read their “old testament” and take seriously the idea that God will “bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse them”.

@Yaakov: As for Abu Mazzen, the US doesn’t choose the head of the PA; we can work with whoever the Palestinians elect, or stonewall the peace process. Israel is increasingly isolated in the world, and stalling just doesn’t look like a viable option.

On the US economy, I’m not willing to place all the blame for the US economy on either Bush II or Obama. The fire may have started under Bush, but Obama was still trying to play nice while the banks went on the foreclosure spree that sent neighborhoods into a free-fall.

So as disappointed as I am with Obama, I’m certainly not going to vote for a candidate that thinks this is a “Christian country”, or who believes that the middle class is expendable and the growing economic disparity is a good thing.

I don’t buy the fact that 78% of US Jews voted for Obama in 2008. Who are these Jews ? According to what criterias ? I guesse many of them are not Jews at all and non-halakhic Jews. If you poll only actual Jews the number is lower.


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Sitting Duck

Barack Obama’s poll numbers are down among Jews—and that’s normal. For more than 30 years, nearly every incumbent president has fared less well among Jews in his re-election effort than in his first campaign.

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