“What the Survey Says About the AJC” by J.J. Goldberg

Reference: Jewish Daily Forward

April 14, 2010

As strange as it sounds, there are strong echoes of Marx in the American Jewish Committee’s latest Annual Survey of American Jewish opinion. Be warned.

I’m thinking of Chico’s classic line from “Duck Soup” (often wrongly attributed to Groucho): “Who ya gonna believe — me, or your own eyes?”

The new survey was announced April 9 in a public statement headlined “AJC Survey Shows U.S. Jews Sharply Divided Over Obama Approach on Iran.” It was, as the statement noted, the eve of President Obama’s global summit on nuclear proliferation. The message was unmistakable: At this sensitive moment, with the Middle East and terrorist threats topping the world’s agenda, the president shouldn’t count on American Jews for support.

The next few paragraphs drove the point home. Two-thirds of American Jews don’t think sanctions (Obama’s chosen tactic) will stop Iran’s nuclear plans. Majorities would back American or Israeli military action. Even on domestic issues — health care, the economy, homeland security — the best the president can muster is, in the AJC’s words, “somewhat higher ratings among Jews than the general American population.” Indeed, while 78% of Jews voted for Obama in 2008, only 57% now approve his overall performance.

Sounds bad for Obama, doesn’t it? If a Democratic president can’t hold onto those liberal Jews, what’s he got left? Looking at the AJC statement, even the most ideological liberal might conclude that this president has been playing with fire, eroding his base by acting tough with Israel and soft on its enemies.

Well, think again. The actual numbers show Obama doing much (not “somewhat”) better among Jews than among Americans overall. Conducted in mid-March, the survey shows Jews backing Obama’s handling of the economy by 55% to 42%. A Gallup poll taken around the same time shows 61% of the general population disapproving Obamanomics, and only 37% approving. On health care 50% of Jews approve of the president’s handling of health care, with 48% expressing disapproval, a statistical tie. But, as has been noted elsewhere, there’s no way to know how many of the Jewish naysayers are liberals who considered the reform too timid. Regardless, it far surpasses general population’s 42%-to-54% disapproval.

Most unexpected, American Jews approve of Obama’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations by a 54% to 32% margin. Americans overall disapprove, 31% to 52%.

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