Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Obama's Jewish problem?

As Matt Yglesias correctly pointed out, the message of the most recent Gallup poll on the subject is that Obama doesn't have a significant Jewish problem--at least, not against McCain, which is where it really counts. (Obama Beats McCain Among Jewish Voters)

Overall, Jewish voters do seem to prefer Clinton over Obama, though not by a huge margin (50%-43%). But they prefer either Democratic candidate over McCain by very large margins:

Clinton: 66%
McCain: 27%

Obama: 61%
McCain: 32%

=> OK, let's add a small qualification. The 61% figure estimated here does not match the proportions of the Jewish vote that have gone for the Democratic candidate in the most recent Presidential elections.

According to standard estimates, the last Presidential election in which the Republican candidate carried a plurality of the Jewish vote was in 1920 (not even a majority, since a lot of Jews voted Socialist that year), so for political aficionados the relevant question is not whether the Democratic candidate commands a Jewish majority but whether it is an overwhelming majority.

Normally, one would consider a roughly 2-1 majority pretty overwhelming. But Kennedy in 1960, Johnson in 1964, and even Humphrey in 1968 all got over 80% of the Jewish vote. McGovern, Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis fared less well (and so did Adlai Stevenson, sad to say). But then Bill Clinton got just under 80% in both 1992 & 1996, and Kerry's percentage in 2004 was in the mid-70s. That puts Obama's estimated 61% down in so-so territory (with Adlai Stevenson).

=> However, the fact remains that Obama commands a very solid majority among Jewish voters--and, as usual, his level of support among Jews is dramatically higher than his support in the overall electorate (see below). One should also bear in mind that the polling on which these figures are based was done in April, which was a difficult month for Obama and for the Democrats. And Jewish Democrats who support Clinton, like other Democrats who support Clinton, are likely to rally around the party's candidate once the dust has settled.

Of course, we shouldn't make too much of any one poll, and the final results will depend on how the general election campaign works out. But my guess is that this 61% will turn out to represent a floor for Obama's Jewish support, not a ceiling.

Meanwhile, some highlights from the Gallup report are below.

--Jeff Weintraub