New Polls: Obama Surging Among Jewish Voters

Friday, October 24th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

For months, Jewish Democrats have argued that Sen. Barack Obama’s relatively weak lead among Jewish voters – at least compared to other recent Democratic nominees – would evaporate as the election neared.

With less than two weeks left until November 4, there  was evidence this week that they were right. Two polls released on Thursday showed the Illinois Democrat steadily winning over Jewish voters.

A new Quinnipiac University survey looked at the key states of Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio and found this: in Florida, 77 percent of Jewish respondents said they would vote for Obama, only 20 percent for McCain.  That contradicts the conventional wisdom that Obama is sagging in a state with a disproportionate number of Jewish retirees.

Overall, the poll suggested the economy is propelling Obama to wins in all three states, with McCain “narrowing the gap” in Florida but “ fading in Ohio and barely denting Sen. Obama’s double digit lead in Pennsylvania.”

One explanation for the Florida results: disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters who once threatened to vote for McCain are coming home to the Democrats, according to the pollsters.

A Gallup poll released this week provided more good news for  Jewish Democrats.

Nationwide, the poll found that 74 percent of Jewish voters say they now support Obama, 22 percent McCain.

While voters in general have surged toward Obama after remaining relatively steady over the summer, the Jewish vote has been increasing at a steady rate since the last Gallup tracking poll in July put the Democrat’s Jewish vote at 62 percent.

“The current proportion of U.S. Jews backing Obama is identical to the level of support the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards received in the 2004 presidential election (74 percent),” Gallup reported. “It is only slightly lower than what Al Gore and Joe Lieberman received in 2000 (80 percent) — when the first Jewish American appeared on the presidential ticket of a major party.”

The Obama surge is consistent with what political scientists have been predicting for months – and come despite aggressive Jewish outreach by the McCain-Palin campaign.

“The fact is, Jewish voters simply favor Democrats unless there’s a reason not to,” said L. Sandy Maisel, a Colby College political scientist. “With the possible exception of the claims by McCain that Obama is unreliable on Israel, Obama is closer to where Jewish voters are on issue after issue. The Republicans have tried to inject Israel as a wedge issue, but it apparently hasn’t gotten traction.”

Jewish Democrats believe the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has driven many undecided Jews back into the arms of the Democrats; Maisel said that could be one factor in the apparent shift.

“I don’t want to sound elitist, but ‘you betcha’ doesn’t play well with college-educated Jewish voters,” he said.

But a prominent Jewish Republican activist who is working for the McCain-Palin campaign said the numbers simply reflect the impact of the worsening economic crisis on the overall electorate – Jews included.

“The economy is the bottom line here, not Palin,” this activist said.  “That’s true among Jews and voters in general. Obviously, that’s a big challenge we have to face in the days remaining.”

The two polls come a month after an American Jewish Committee poll put Obama’s support at only 57 percent among Jewish voters.

In that poll, younger Jews were LESS likely to support Obama than older ones, and Gallup offers a partial explanation: while 48-49 percent of Jews self-identify as liberals in all age groups, the proportion of conservatives is much higher in the  18-34 age group than among those over 55.  29 percent of the younger Jews identify as conservatives, only 16 percent of those at the top of the age range.

Several analysts said this week that those numbers could reflect the coming of age of a large cohort of Orthodox Jewish voters in the under-35 age group.

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.