Since Jimmy Carter’s presidency in 1980, the Democrats have never failed to win the majority of the Jewish vote. However, that may be change in 2012 as the Jewish vote is predicted to tilt more toward the political right.
Many Republicans and Jews have criticized President Obama’s foreign policy for being too hard on Israel, a close U.S. ally. His policies have led to a strained relationship between the two countries. As a result, many Jewish Americans are showing less support for Obama.
GOP candidate Bob Turner’s congressional upset in a heavily Jewish New York City district has raised further implications that the Jewish vote is on the line. The election was held to fill the seat vacated in June by Anthony Weiner, a Democrat disgraced in a sexting scandal. Turner’s election marks the GOP win in the district since 1923.
House Speaker John Boehner released a statement Tuesday night regarding the election results. The election, Boehner said, "delivered a strong warning to the Democrats who control the levers of power in our federal government. It's time to scrap the failed 'stimulus' agenda and the misguided policies on Israel and focus on getting America back to creating jobs again."
Democrats, however, are trying to downplay Weiner’s departure.
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat who has represented New York's 9th congressional district for 18 years, told CBS that the district has never been a forerunner in predicting national events.
"It's among the most conservative districts in New York City, and it's changing rapidly over the years," he said. "Anybody who tries to extrapolate [national implications from] what happened in this district ... is making a big mistake."
However, the Obama campaign senses trouble. The Democratic National Committee has created a Jewish outreach program that serves to debunk any rumors that Obama is hostile toward Israel. On Wednesday, a new website Attack Watch, was launched that serves to tell Obama’s side of the story and allow his team to respond to any inquires his voters may have regarding his policies. Among the top issues the site wants to “set straight” is the idea that “President Obama is a friend to Israel, despite unfounded claims to the contrary,” the site reads.
“We just have a lot of people lying about the president’s record, and we have to push back on it,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., told The New York Times.
“The president has a rock-solid record on Israel, and because we’re going to convey that in a detailed way, we’re going to get an overwhelming (Jewish) majority again,” said Schultz, Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
However, Obama has clearly lost favor with American Jews. In 2008, according to Gallup, nearly 80 percent of the Jewish population voted for Obama. In July 2009, Gallup’s most recent data on the Jewish vote, his approval rating had dropped to 60 percent, which is low by Democratic standards.
“While it is certainly the case that Democratic presidential candidates typically get a healthy majority of the Jewish vote, there is significant evidence that the Jewish vote can move based on external conditions," Tevi Troy, senior fellow at Hudson Institute, told The Christian Post. Former President George W. Bush saw an increase in Jewish vote from 20 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2004 due to his strong stand in favor of Israel, Troy said. Orthodox Jews showed even more favorability, giving Bush a 70 percent approval rating.
“With respect to Obama, there is clearly disaffection within the Jewish community about his poor relations with Israel. No one is suggesting that Obama will lose the Jewish vote in 2012, but he is going to see a real comedown from his 78 percent showing in 2008.”
The relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been chilly since the beginning. It got even colder in May after a speech in which Obama insisted, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually-agreed swaps.” The 1967 lines refer to the borders that existed before the Six-Day War led to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
“For a while now, I’ve been hearing from my constituents a lot of dissatisfaction with the statements on Israel that have been coming from the president and the administration,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-New York, told The New York Times. “He’ll still get a majority of Jewish votes, but I would not be surprised to see that drop 10 to 20 points.”
Engel said the crux of the problem is Obama “tends to blame Israel and the Palestinians equally for the impasse in the Middle East – an equivalence many Jewish voters find objectionable.”
However, there is still plenty of time left before the next election for Obama to repair his image in the Jewish community. Also, Jewish Americans are not a one-issue constituency. Jews seem to be more liberal when it comes to social policies and the economy, and if this continues to be the case, the Republicans may have a hard time garnering the Jewish vote as well.
As Steve Rabinowitz, a former Clinton White House official who advises Jewish groups, told The New York Times, “Jews vote like everybody else – only more so.”