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Jewish Voters Still Overwhelmingly Democratic

Jim Gerstein, executive director of Democracy Corps, has a post up at Politico, vaporizing the GOP meme that President Obama and Democrats are losing support of Jewish voters.

Gerstein begins by pointing out that conservatives tried to peddle this meme in 2000 and 2004 and 2008 with less than impressive outcomes: Al Gore got 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000, John Kerry received 74 percent and Obama was supported by 78 percent of Jewish voters, despite an extensive Republican propaganda efforts.

As for the November 2nd midterms, Gerstein says,

Now, with midterm elections approaching, the voices proclaiming Jewish revolt are in full force. This time, they say Democrats will lose Jewish support because Obama is unduly pressuring Israel. As usual, these arguments are based on arbitrary quotes from the leaders of lobbying organizations or someone's Aunt Esther. It ignores the actual data reflecting the opinions of rank-and-file American Jews.

The starting point for separating anecdote from fact is to understand that Israel is not a voting priority for American Jews. In surveys that my firm has conducted for J Street in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, only 8 percent to 10 percent of Jews cite Israel as one of the top two issues determining their vote. In other words, an overwhelming 90 percent of Jews don't consider Israel as one of their top two issues.

For Jews, Israel is a threshold issue rather than a high priority. That is, candidates must demonstrate they are "good enough" on Israel. However, once they pass this threshold -- as Obama, Kerry and Bill Clinton did -- Jewish voters move on to consider issues that actually affect their daily lives, just like other voters.

Gerstein concedes that there will likely be a decline in Jewish support for Democratic candidates this year, proportional to the decline of support from other constituencies. Republicans will try to exaggerate the significance of the decline, but politically-alert voters won't buy it. In terms of the latest poll numbers, Gerstein explains:

Currently, the Jewish vote is where we would expect it. Gallup reported in June that Democrats are getting 62 percent of the Jewish vote (which rises to 69 percent when allocating undecided voters). Last week, Gallup reported that Obama's job approval with Jews remained 13 points above the national electorate, a margin that has remained consistent throughout his presidency...

As Gerstein concludes, "Clearly, Democrats' political challenges are not with American Jews."