Another poll is out looking at public opinion on Obama administration's handling of the Middle East and U.S.-Israel relations, and despite the small Jewish sample (see JTA's Ron Kampeas, who loves analyzing poll methodology; I defer to him, since I barely passed graduate statistics) there's some ungood news for the Democrats.
In the Quinnipiac University survey released last week, 44 percent of the public at large disapproves of the way Obama is “handling the situation between Israel and the Palestinians,” with 67 percent of Jewish voters disapproving, only 28 percent approving.
That's a pretty sharp contrast to the recent American Jewish Committee survey, in which 55 percent of the Jews approved, 37 percent disapproved of President Obama's handling of U.S.-Israel ties.
According to Quinnipiac, 42 percent of the overall electorate believes President Obama is not a strong supporter of the Jewish state; more Republicans believe that than Democrats, and wealthier and older voters are more likely to question his support.
I talked to several Jewish Democrats this week; they pointed out the discrepancies between the Quinnipiac poll and the AJC survey and the obvious fact that most Jewish voters make their political choices based largely on domestic issues, not Israel policy.
But political scientists argue that Israel is a “threshold” issue for American Jews. Outside the activist and Orthodox communities – a small minority – Israel isn't much of a factor unless that Jewish majority sees Israel as genuinely threatened by administration policy.
The question is: has president Obama neared that threshold? What will it take to push him over the line in the eyes of the Jewish silent majority?
That doesn't mean Obama is in danger of actually losing the Jewish vote in 2012. He'd have to do a lot more than criticize building in East Jerusalem and dissing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make that happen.
What Jewish Democrats fear – or should fear – is that any significant slippage in Jewish support based on the Israel issue, while unlikely to have much of an impact on election day results, could have a very big impact on political fundraising.
The last thing the Democrats want in this difficult political year is to lose pro-Israel campaign dollars – and see much of that money go to the Republicans. That could happen, depending on what comes next in the administration's attempt to get its footing in Middle East diplomatic waters that are particularly treacherous for neophytes with grand ideas and not much experience.
Bottom line: don't believe the hype you hear about a big Jewish move to the Republicans. But also don't believe those Democrats who, whistling past the graveyard, say President Obama's sinking numbers with the Jews are just an ephemeral phenomenon unlikely to have much of a political impact.
Just ask the guys who are busy raising money for this year's congressional elections and already laying plans for the 2012 presidential race.
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