A new survey shows President Barack Obama struggling with American Jews — but not on Israel-related matters.
The American Jewish Committee poll of U.S. Jews found that Obama’s approval rating is at 57 percent, with 38 percent disapproving. That’s down from the stratospheric 79 percent approval rating among Jews that Obama enjoyed about a year ago, in May 2009. The AJC poll was conducted March 2 to 23 and surveyed 800 self-identifying Jewish respondents selected from a consumer mail panel.
Obama’s advantage among Jews versus the rest of the population appears to be eroding. The latest Gallup polling shows Obama with a national approval rating of 48, nine points below Jewish polling. Last May, general polling earned him 63 percent approval, 16 points below Jewish polling.
Despite the drop — and weeks of tensions with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Obama still polls solidly on foreign policy, with a steady majority backing his handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to the AJC survey.
It is on domestic issues that the president appears to be facing more unhappiness.
Jewish voters are statistically split on how Obama has handled health care reform, with 50 percent approving and 48 disapproving. On the economy he fares slightly better. Jewish voters who favor his policies stand at 55 percent, while 42 percent disapprove.
Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the relatively low score on domestic issues underscored what he said was a steady decline in Democratic support among Jewish voters.
“This indicates a serious erosion of support,” he said. “It’s a huge drop. There’s no silver lining” for Democrats.
Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, countered that the poll did not account for Jewish voters who might be disappointed with Obama from a more liberal perspective — for instance, over his dropping the public option from the reform bill.
Additionally, much of the AJC polling took place before Obama’s come-from-behind victory on March 21, when the House of Representatives passed health care reform, Forman said.
Obama fares well with Jews on homeland security, with 62 percent approving and 33 percent disapproving.
He also scores 55 percent approval
on how he handles U.S.-Israel relations, which is virtually unchanged since last September, when he scored 54 percent approval.
The latest questions, however, coincided almost exactly with the period when U.S. officials accused the Netanyahu government of “insulting” the United States by announcing a new building start in eastern Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, and when the president refused to make public gestures of friendship during Netanyahu’s subsequent visit to Washington.
A question on Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear capability showed a statistical dead heat on the approval side between last September (49 percent) and now (47 percent). However, disapproval ratings rose moderately, apparently borrowing from the “uncertain” column: Back in September 35 percent disapproved; now 42 percent gave a thumbs down.
Support for U.S. and Israeli attacks on Iran to keep it from making a nuclear bomb appeared to drop slightly. Asked about a U.S. strike, 53 percent said they would support one, and 42 percent were opposed, compared with 56 percent and 36 percent last September. On an Israeli strike, 62 percent supported and 33 percent opposed, compared with 66 and 28 percent in September.
The only other question in the recent survey directly addressing Obama’s foreign policy also showed strong support for the president: 62 percent of respondents agreed with Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
Approval of Obama’s foreign policies contrasts with what appears to be increasing uneasiness in the Jewish establishment with the administration’s approach. Several influential pro-Israel organizations have spent months, to little avail, pleading with the administration to confine its disagreements to back rooms.
David Harris, AJC’s executive director, meanwhile, said low approval ratings don’t necessarily translate into electoral losses.
Brooks said he would advise GOP candidates to hammer Democrats hard on foreign policy, particularly in tight races in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida, where Jewish voters trended less liberal than on the coasts. “If Republican candidates are smart, they will make Democratic candidates in these races answerable to whether they support Obama’s policies of pressuring Israel,” the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition said.