The American Jewish Commitee released its annual survey of American Jewish opinion last week and the results were disappointing to progressive Jews. First, a few caveats: the survey was compiled between September 8-21, meaning that the early results would be almost meaningless in terms of subsequent campaign developments. In other words, the Republican national convention ended on September 4th. So survey results compiled in the early part of the polling period would be heavily influenced by the convention afterglow. Subsequent events in the campaign have harmed McCain and this would not be reflected in the results.
Barack Obama garners only 57% of the Jewish vote, down from 62% in a July J Street poll. McCain gets only 30% of the Jewish vote, down from 32% in the J Street poll. Undecideds are 13%, up from 6% in J Street. Certainly, if the same poll were conducted today Obama’s results would be much higher and there would be fewer undecideds. But whether that gets Obama anywhere near the 70% that is more characteristic of previous Democratic presidential campaigns is anyone’s guess.
What this shows is that the Republican Jewish Coalition’s smear tactics are working to an extent in depressing the Jewish vote for Obama. The e-mail hoaxes claiming Obama is a Muslim or that he’s anti-Israel–all these are having an impact. The Clarion Fund’s 28 million DVDs of Obsession flooding swing states–that’s having an impact as well.
So while current national polls show Obama moving into a commanding lead over McCain, the Jewish community is mired in mud which is preventing Obama from picking up the votes he might expect from this community.
The AJC poll also contains some more disappointing results. 42% of American Jews support military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. That result last year was 35%. It should be noted that contrary to James Besser’s contention in Jewish Week, that American Jews are far out of synch with Americans on this subject. A June, 2008 Public Agenda poll (pdf) found that 47% favored diplomatic engagement while only 12% of Americans supported either using or threatening military force against Iran (75% supported diplomacy or economic sanctions). So the anti-Iran campaign mounted by Aipac, Conference of Presidents and the Israel Project lobbying for a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran is also bearing fruit.
The Iran result completely gives the lie to a recent Israel Project poll which found that 63% of Americans support an Israeli attack on Iran if other means fail. It just goes to show how a pollster can either intentionally or unintentionally skew results in a client’s favor (the Israel Project supports such an attack).
American Jews are similarly dispirited about the prospects for peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors: 56% believe Israel will never settle its differences with the Arab states; 68% believe Israel can never attain peace with a Hamas-led government.
Unfortunately, this year’s survey was severely truncated for financial reasons (or so the AJC claims). There were no questions asked about the status of Jerusalem. No question was asked about whether Israel should negotiate with Hamas. No questions were asked about settlements. No question was asked about the Israel-Syria negotiations or whether Israel should return the Golan. All these would’ve likely elicited more dovish replies as they did in last year’s survey.
I also find it rather pathetic that this is perhaps the most important Jewish survey produced in the U.S. and the AJC can’t raise enough money to do it right? It only increases the importance of the new J Street poll which was done for the first time last July.