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Spinning the Jewish Vote

A bruising election keeps bruising

Adam Chandler
November 08, 2012

A little more than 12 hours after the American election, the battle to spin how the Jewish vote had gone was a’raging. J Street and the Republican Jewish Coalition released polling data citing that the President had scored between 69-70% of the American Jewish vote. The Republican Jewish Coalition declared a victory saying that it had dropped President Obama from 78% in 2008 to 69%, the results of roughly $8 million spent by the RJC and an affiliated Super PAC in targeted ads, videoes, and robocalls.

“We’ve increased our share of the Jewish vote by almost 50 percent,” RJC Director Matt Brooks said in a conference call, referencing John McCain’s less-than-stellar 22% showing.

Brooks went on the explain that more Jewish voters had turned out to vote for Republican presidential candidates in five of the last six elections since 1992, although considering that Bush 41 infamously had a secretary of state that uttered “F*ck the Jews,” the basement was pretty low. Brooks also conceded that 2008 was a setback for Jewish voters and the GOP.

Just one hour earlier, J Street’s conference call on the Jewish vote presented different conclusions. First it lowered President Obama’s total among Jewish voters from 78% to 74% citing data from the Solomon Project as a more accurate representation than the initial exit polls in 2008. Even if that number is more accurate, it seems defeatist for pro-Obama forces to cite it now. The J Street data also sought to lump President Obama’s decline in Jewish votes as consistent with a drop among most constituencies including whites and Catholics and his overall drop from 53% to 50% in the popular vote.

An illuminating example of how the narratives diverge rests in the data about Israel. The RJC pushed the idea that 77% of Jewish respondents said Israel was an important issue to them. Of course, it’s difficult to imagine that the vast majority of Jewish voters wouldn’t say that. In the J Street survey, when Jewish voters were asked what the most important issues were in the election, only 10% of respondents mentioned Israel in their top two (with another 2% saying Iran). Where the RJC was too specific, J Street was too vague.

One comment made by pollster Jim Gerstein, who ran the J Street polling, did strike me as true in explaining why Democrats still maintain broad Jewish support in America.

For Jewish voters, Israel is a threshold voting issue; once candidates demonstrate that they are supportive of Israel, voters move on to consider other issues that more directly affect their daily lives.”

It’s impossible to envision Jewish voters standing firmly behind any candidate that is hostile to Israel. The efficacy of presenting President Obama as a bad candidate for Israel seems to have been what we were really fighting about all this time. Was it worth it?

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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