More on the AJC poll, Obama’s approval ratings, Iran and Jerusalem

On Friday I blogged about the new American Jewish Committee survey of Jewish public opinion – conducted and released earlier than usual because of the rising U.S.-Israel friction and interest in how that would affect political attitudes.

My initial conclusion, which I’m mostly sticking to: Jewish opinion remained pretty stable despite the headlines. Support for President Obama has dropped, but Jews still support him more than the general public.

Yesterday I had a call from an activist who said I was missing the point; while 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama in November, 2008, his approval rating today is down to 57 percent among Jewish respondents – a pretty dramatic drop, my caller argued.

I wasn’t exactly a star student in graduate statistics, so I put the question to University of Florida political scientist Ken Wald, a close follower of Jewish politics (he should be; he’s the director of the school’s Director of the Center for Jewish Studies).

His answer: the numbers can’t be compared.

“Vote choice and job approval are independent, albeit related, constructs,” he said, sounding like the academic he is. “In a vote, the respondent has to make a constrained choice between two alternatives. ‘Approval’ is much squishier. People may be mad about particular acts of omission or commission and the approval question gives them a chance to indulge that sentiment in a way that has no real consequences.”

What Wald suggests: while Jewish voters may be less enthralled with Obama than they were in 2008, “given a choice between Obama and, say, Romney or Huckabee, I suspect you’d see the same voting support difference as in 2008.”

In other words, approval ratings don’t automatically translate into voting behavior.

Other numbers in the AJC poll show a drop in support for Obama, but hardly a plunge.

Asked if they approve of the Obama’ administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, 55 percent approved, 37 percent disapproved. The approval rating was actually up one point since 2009; the “disapprove” response was up 5 points, a bit above the margin of error.

Despite the small shifts, it would be a mistake to take these numbers as proof Obama is still aces with Jewish voters; the survey was conducted between March 2 and March 23, so some of the data was collected before the recent crisis that began with Vice President Biden’s ill-fated trip to Israel erupted.

There are no indications the new U.S.-Israel friction is over. And if speculation that the administration is preparing its own peace plan and is ready to push both sides to the negotiating table proves accurate, there could be a lot of agitation by pro-Israel groups that want to stop it. How much of that actually percolates into Jewish voting is impossible to predict, but it would be foolish to predict no impact at all.

As usual, the AJC survey is full of other interesting data.

The Orthodox Union is touting Question 8; the fact that while 55 percent of respondents approved of the Obama Administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, 61 percent say Israel shouldn’t “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a unified city under Israeli jurisdiction.” The “nos” were up a hair since last year.

And there was a bump in dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue. In 2009, 35 percent disapproved; this year 42 percent gave the administration the thumbs down.

Interestingly, there was a small decline in the proportion of Jews who would support a U.S. nuclear strike to keep Iran from going nuclear – down from 56 percent last year to 53 percent in 2010.

Read more about the AJC poll and look at the pretty pie charts here. 

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.