Obama Doesn't Have a 'Jewish Problem' — He Has a People Problem

The president will likely perform worse with Jews in 2012 than in 2008. But that's because he'll perform worse with everyone.


The storyline is older than the modern state of Israel. Reporters portray American Jews as parochially fixated on Israel and ask: Will the issue help Republicans win support from the rare affluent group that votes Democratic?

The answer is no. There's a round of these articles every presidential cycle, and the answer is the same every time. Obama will likely perform worse with Jews in 2012 than in 2008. But that's because he'll likely perform worse with nearly everyone.

President Obama has more support today among Jews than Hispanics, youth, college graduates, Easterners, moderates and secular voters, according to Gallup data. Yet the polar storyline endures in major media outlets. New York Times front-page headline: "Seeing Ripple in Jewish Vote." CNN headline: "How can President Obama save the Jewish vote?" Politico headline: "Obama slips with Jews." And that was only on Thursday.

Obama has merely slipped onto a familiar floor. His support among Americans is at a low-point. Thus Jewish support has declined as well. Yet the trend is not new. Gallup tracked that same floor in Jewish support in July, August and November 2010.

This Jewish news is therefore old news. Fifty-four percent of Jews currently approve of the president's job performance; 40 percent disapprove. What about other core Democratic blocs? Forty-seven percent of Hispanics approve of Obama. Half of voters under age 30 hold Obama in a positive light. Obama has lost support at roughly the same pace among myriad blocs that constitute the Democratic base, with the exception of blacks, since his first weeks in office.

A recent special election spurred the opposite storyline. On Tuesday, a Republican won New York's Ninth Congressional District for the first time in decades. It spans Queens and Brooklyn. A third to perhaps 40 percent of the district's electorate was Jewish. Yet the district's Jews skew heavily towards Orthodox and Russian Jews. This is the sliver of the Jewish vote that leans conservative. American moderates and conservatives have moved rightward in the Obama years -- and the same is likely true of moderate and conservative Jews.

Don't mistake the outliers for the tribe. Even a majority of religiously conservative Jews voted for Democratic House candidates in the 2010 election. Overall, in that historically awful Democratic year, two-thirds of Jews still backed Democrats in the House elections, according to polling by Jim Gerstein.

In recent decades, only blacks have proven a more dependable bloc of the Democratic base. Yet we pay attention to the Jewish vote, above all, because Jews contribute an outsized share of financial support to political campaigns. Indeed, the GOP has long sought this fundraising white whale.

Jews have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since before FDR was president. Obama won nearly eight in 10. Two-thirds of Jews voted Democratic even in the GOP landslide years of 1972 and 1984. Ronald Reagan proved that a Republican could win segments of the Jewish vote. But that was also true with the Democratic base generally -- hence the Reagan Democrats. Reagan's exception reiterates the rule.

Presented by

David Paul Kuhn is the Chief Political Correspondent for RealClearPolitics and the author of The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma.

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