According to a poll released by the American Jewish Committee last week, President Barack Obama is leading former Governor Mitt Romney 61 percent-28 percent among Jewish voters. Obama's support is 17 percent below the 78 percent he scored in 2008 while Romney's is 6 percent above John McCain's 22 percent.
Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency what the numbers mean for Obama, Executive Director of the AJC, David Harris, said (addressing Obama):
"The concerning news is that you dropped about 17 points from where you were in 2008 and if it's going to be a close election, especially in key swing states."
"You're going to have to do more to recoup," Harris said. "You will have to spend more time emphasizing the national security, pro-Israel aspects of your record."
That conclusion is no surprise coming from Harris, who is extremely hawkish on all matters related to Israel. But the findings of the poll do not support his conclusion.
Yes, Obama's numbers are down among Jewish voters. But why wouldn't they be?
Obama's numbers have dropped among Americans in general which is why not even the most optimistic Democrat is predicting anything like the Obama landslide of 2008. The reason for that decline is the weak economy. It was the economic collapse under President George W. Bush that produced Obama's big 2008 win and it will be the continuing weakness of the economy that will be the main factor in Obama's narrow win this November. Or his narrow defeat.
Every poll shows that. Why would Jewish Americans, who live in this country and are as affected by its economy as much their fellow Americans be any different?
As for Harris's implication that Obama is perceived as week on "national security," the polls simply don't back that up. Killing Osama Bin Laden and his aggressiveness in Pakistan more than shored up Obama's standing in that area.
Of course, Harris was not really referring to the "national security, pro-Israel aspects" of Obama's record. He was talking about the "pro-Israel aspects" exclusively, using the "national security" phrase as a cover, so as not to appear too parochial.
But the AJC's own poll shows that very few Jewish voters vote on the basis of a presidential candidate's stance on Israel. According to the poll, the #1 deciding factor for Jews when voting for president is the U.S. economy. Among the 11 choices offered by the AJC pollster, 29 percent choose the economy. Next is health care with 20 percent. U.S.-Israel relations is chosen by 6 percent. The remaining 50 percent pick one of the other issues that Americans in general, and not specifically Jews, are concerned with.
So 6 percent of Jewish voters make their choice based on Israel.
And yet Harris concludes that to remedy a 17 percent slip among Jews, Obama must "spend more time emphasizing the national security, pro-Israel aspects of your record."
But another finding by AJC is that of the 6 percent who vote for president based on Israel 45 percent would vote for Romney and 42 percent would vote for Obama.
So, on that issue alone, the one Harris chooses to emphasize, Obama's deficit is just 3 percent. And of that number -- those preferring Romney over Obama because of Israel -- what percentage are Republicans in any case? Given that about 25 percent of Jews call themselves Republicans, it is safe to assume that the number who are swinging to Romney because of Israel is considerably less than 3 percent.
I won't do the calculation because we are now approaching a figure that is close to meaningless. The bottom line is this: Obama's ratings are down with Jews but not because of Israel.
So what's the president's problem? It's the economy and the health care issue as the poll makes clear.
But -- and here is where Jews differ from the general population -- it is likely that Jewish voters object to Obama's economic and health care policies not because they perceive that he spent too much money on economic stimulus and pursued a radical health care agenda, but because they believe his approach was too conservative.
That too is obvious from the AJC poll. Only 19 percent of Jews label themselves "conservative" or "lean conservative" while 46 percent label themselves "liberal" or "lean liberal" with another 35 percent opting for "moderate, middle of the road."
Additionally, on the two issues of most concern to Jewish voters, the economy and health care, Jews are decidedly liberal as evidenced by the fact that of those choosing the economy as their #1 issue, 62 percent say they prefer the Democrats' approach. On health care, 66 percent prefer the Democrats.
The bottom line is that a not insignificant percentage of Jews are, at least as of May, disillusioned with Obama's presidency. If these numbers hold, it could cause problems for the president.
However, the way to solve his problems is not by doing more for Binyamin Netanyahu (what more could he possibly do?) but by moving left and offering a solid progressive agenda for America. Jews remain FDR Democrats. If Obama wants to approach FDR's support among Jews (an average of 87 percent), he needs to start governing more like FDR and less like a generic moderate. He also needs to stop buying into the myth that American Jews put Israel first.