Debating the AJC poll and the plight of Jewish Democrats
10/12/2010 - 17:34
James Besser

Only minutes after posting my story on the new American Jewish Committee poll and its plethora of bad news for President Obama, I received an email from an angry Democrat.

Sure, he said, the national downturn in the President's popularity is reflected in the Jewish numbers. But he argued that I downplayed the fact the Democrats still enjoy a close to three-to-one advantage over the Republicans in Jewish partisan identification.

Well, yeah. That's not insignificant, and maybe I didn't give it enough weight in the story.

But what matters in politics is where things are going, not where they've been, and right now things aren't going where the Democrats would like.

What was striking about the poll was how the anxiety that has gripped the nation as a whole, based to a considerable degree on our ongoing economic woes and the inability of Congress and the administration to fix them but also on what seems like a rudderless foreign policy, “pops out on almost every question,” in the words of AJC chief David Harris.

The bottom line of the poll is that as a confluence of bad news - unemployment at home, a morass in Afghanistan, Iran, gridlock in Congress and much more – descends on the nation, Jewish voters, who once stuck out like sore thumbs in the political cosmos because of their stubborn liberalism in the face of the decades-old conservative tide, are starting to look a little more like the nation as a whole.

When they're not writing press releases and spinning impressionable conservative reporters, Jewish Republicans are realists; they know perfectly well that these numbers don't mean a huge swing of Jewish voters in next month's congressional midterms or in the 2012 contest.

My guess is that next month Jewish voters will register their strong disapproval of President Obama and the Democratic Congress in some races, but in others - especially in contests with some of the more controversial Tea Party candidates anchoring the GOP ticket - stick with the Democrats, whatever their misgivings.

If the 2012 election was held tomorrow, it's pretty clear that President Obama would have a much harder time winning the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he hauled in back in 2008.

But it isn't tomorrow; it's in two years, which in political terms is an eternity.

And polls aren't elections, as political scientist L. Sandy Maisel pointed out; facing a choice between two real world candidates – say Barack Obama and Sarah Palin – is very different from registering approval or disapproval in a phone survey.

On the other side of the coin, it's pretty evident Jewish Republicans are going into the 2010 midterms with a stronger hand than they've had in a long time.

And they have an ace up their sleeve that promises even more change in the future. Of the Jewish population under 20 years of age, about one third are Orthodox (the Orthodox population, overall, is only 9-10 percent of the current Jewish population) . And with each election, the Orthodox electorate moves more firmly into the GOP camp.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; Obama's sinking Jewish numbers will help the Republicans, but not produce any tectonic shift this year or in 2012. But long term, the Democrats are going to have to figure out a strategy for dealing with the demographic shift in a Jewish community that will become way more Orthodox, and therefore a lot more Republican.

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