Is Republican outreach succeeding?

Poll shows Jewish support for Obama in Florida down 7 percentage points from 2008

President still leads over Romney 69 percent to 25 percent

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Republican Jewish Coalition members awaiting Barack Obama's arrival in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Sept. 9. (photo credit: Courtesy RJC/JTA)
Republican Jewish Coalition members awaiting Barack Obama's arrival in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Sept. 9. (photo credit: Courtesy RJC/JTA)

Support for President Barack Obama among Jews in the state of Florida is down 7 percentage points on 2008, according to an American Jewish Committee (AJC) poll released Thursday.

A total of 69% of Florida Jews said they would vote for Obama in November’s presidential elections, down from an estimated 76% in 2008, the AJC noted.

A 7 percentage-point drop in the Jewish vote likely represents over 50,000 votes in a state that the Republicans won in 2000 by fewer than 600 votes.

The 69% figure closely matches the results of a Gallup poll among Jewish voters nationwide from last weekend, which put support for Obama among US Jews at 70%.

Only 25% of Florida Jews said they would vote for Mitt Romney, according to the AJC poll.

Republicans have invested unprecedented resources — including buying billboards, print advertisements and door-to-door canvassing — to target hundreds of thousands of Jews in swing states whom the Republican Jewish Coalition has suggested may be considering turning away from their traditional Democratic affiliation.

The AJC’s telephone poll was conducted among 254 registered Jewish voters between September 7-9. The AJC expects to publish, within the coming weeks, a poll of Jewish voters in Ohio — another key battleground state — and a nationwide poll.

“In a key state, to which both parties are devoting a great deal of time and attention, and where recent history is a reminder that the margin of victory can be razor-thin, the Jewish vote takes on added importance,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris.

According to Republican Jewish Coalition head Matt Brooks, the new poll “reinforces what we’ve been saying all along, and that various polls in the past have indicated, which is that Barack Obama continues to have trouble with Jewish voters, and we continue to see significant erosion of Jewish support for the president.”

Democrats, however, challenged the conclusion Thursday that the new poll showed Obama slipping among Florida Jewish voters.

“It’s comparing apples and oranges to compare a 2008 exit poll and an AJC study in September of 2012,” said National Jewish Democratic Council head David Harris.

“But having said that, when you take out the undecideds from the AJC poll, you have Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney 73 [percent] to 26,” he added. “This is one point away from where I see the final vote tally of the Jewish vote settled in 2008,” which the NJDC has argued came in at 74%.

Undecided respondents may indeed shrink the gap between Obama’s support in 2008 and those who said they would support him in the AJC poll. In question five, pollsters asked undecided respondents a second time whether they leaned toward Obama or Romney, leading half to say they leaned toward Obama, while none said they were leaning toward Romney.

The NJDC’s Harris said that support for Obama among Jews has risen, and will continue to rise as Election Day nears. “It’s only getting better from here,” he said. “In every poll that’s been taken over the last 18 months in the Jewish community, Barack Obama has gotten more support and Mitt Romney has gotten less support. The trend lines are apparent for anyone who views the facts.”

The findings of the poll suggest Florida Jews are strongly Democratic on domestic issues, but that Republican criticism of the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel may be taking its toll.

While Jews approve of how Obama is handling “the economy,” “health care,” and “national security” (by margins of 64%, 69% and 76% respectively), figures related to Israel are lower.

Thus, 74% would support Israeli military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program, an action the Obama administration has vehemently opposed at this stage in both public and private statements.

While Florida Jewish voters favor Democrats over Republicans on national security (by 66% vs. 27%), and on the economy (68% vs. 28%), the Democratic lead narrows significantly when voters are asked about the parties’ handling of US-Israeli relations (54% vs. 35%).

And, while Obama enjoys a 61% approval rating for his handling of the US-Israel relationship, Florida Jewish voters give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who has clashed repeatedly with Obama on several issues — a 72% approval rating in handling the relationship.

On Iran, 94% are “concerned” (79% are “very concerned”; 15% are “somewhat concerned”) about “the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” A smaller majority (53% vs. 43%), believe it is unlikely that diplomacy and sanctions will stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And 62% support US military action if diplomacy and sanctions fail. As already noted, an even higher number, 74%, support an Israeli military action, while only 17% oppose such an action.

The figures on Israel may explain the drop in support for Obama from 2008: A large majority of poll participants, 86%, said they agreed (66% strongly, 20% somewhat) with the statement: “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.”

Florida Jewish voters, like most Jews and most Israelis in recent polls, are pessimistic about Arab-Israeli peace: Only 7% believe chances for peace increased in the past year; 33% said they decreased; and 56% said they stayed the same.

Florida Jewish voters disapprove of Republican vice-presidential pick Paul Ryan, by a large majority: While 76% approve of Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate, just 30% approve of Ryan as Romney’s mate, and 59% disapprove (with 49% disapproving “strongly”).

The low support for Ryan may partly explain the Democratic advantage. Asked how important the vice-presidential choice was to their vote, 72% said it was either very important (30%) or somewhat important (42%).

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