Obama Zim - AP - 16.4.12
Obama tours Tampa's port, with Israeli company Zim's shipping containers in the background, April 13, 2012. Photo by AP
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Sixty-two percent of Jewish American voters would like to see U.S. President Barack Obama reelected in November, and only 4% define Israel as the most important issue influencing their vote.

The results emerged as part of a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute based in Washington, D.C.

According to the survey, while only 62% of Jewish voters in the U.S. would like to reelect Obama, 30% would prefer to see a Republican candidate take the upcoming elections.

In the 2008 elections, 78% of Jewish Americans voted for Obama, but, according to the survey's authors, the figure reflects statistics measured at a similar point in the campaign that year. The current figure also shows that Jewish support for Obama is much higher than that of the general American population (44% for Obama and 37% for a Republican candidate).

Of the Jews who voted for Obama in 2008, 86% would like to see him reelected, while 7% said they have switched sides and would prefer to see a Republican candidate win this time round. Fifty-eight percent of the Jewish voters approve of Obama's performance as president, 34% disapprove.

Thirty-six percent said they are "not sure" about their opinion of how Obama is handling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Sixty-seven percent of Jewish voters hold "mostly" or "very" unfavorable opinions of Mitt Romney, but Jewish Republican supporters prefer the former Massachusetts Governor by a large margin of 58%, compared to his rivals. Trailing far behind are former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum with 15%, former Speaker Newt Gingrich with 13%, and Congressman Ron Paul, with 12%.

Economy over Israel

The survey gives a decisive answer as to how important Israel is for the Jewish voters this time round: Not very. Only 4% define it as "the most important issue" influencing their vote. The economy is the top issue for 51%, while for 15% of respondents, the most important issue is the "growing gap between the rich and poor." Nearly two-thirds of the American Jews think the government should do more to reduce this gap, and 81% support raising taxes on Americans earning more than 1 million dollars a year. Ten percent were more concerned about health care, 7% for the federal deficit. Only 4% are worried about national security issues and Israel, 2% are most concerned about Iran, and 1% the environment, immigration, same-sex marriage and abortion.

While "Birthright" trips to Israel might make participants more connected to the Jewish state, the survey showed that, overall, Israel is far from being the issue that defines Jewish identity among Americans. When asked which qualities are most important to their Jewish identity, 46% mentioned a commitment to social equality, 20% spoke of their support for Israel, and 17% cited religious observance. To the question of what influenced their political beliefs, 87% mentioned the Holocaust, 85% the "opportunities for economic success" in America, and 66% referred to being a religious minority in America.

Being Jewish was "very important" or "most important" for 42% of the Jewish Americans, while for 29% it was "somewhat important" and for 29% it was "not too important" or not important at all.

Being Jewish was "very important" to 73% of synagogue-goers, but only to 22% of those who do not belong to an established Jewish community. It was important for 64% of Conservative Jews, 39% of Reform Jews, and 10% of Jews who do not affiliate themselves with any denomination.

As for Middle East politics and the perception of U.S.-Israeli relations, while

While Obama Administration officials like to say military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is closer than ever before, only 54% of Jewish Americans perceive the relationship is the same as always, while 37% think the ties "are worse", and only 7% think they are better than in the past.

Fifty-three percent of Jewish Americans said they would support the establishment of a Palestinian state, while 42% would oppose it. Sixty-three percent think that, in general, diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace, versus 24% who prefer military action. But when it comes to Iran, 59% of Jewish Americans think the U.S. should take military action to stop Iran's nuclear program should sanctions fail, while 37% oppose it.

The vast majority of Jewish Americans define Israel's major problems in terms of external threats (90% cite the Israeli Palestinian conflict, 83% Iran). Fifty-three percent also mentioned ultra-Orthodox control of religious life as being a major problem and 38% cited social inequality in Israel.

Interpreting the results

According to the survey, 70% of the Jewish Americans are either registered democrats or leaning toward the Democratic party, and 29% identify themselves as Republicans or leaning toward the Republican party.

Dr. Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, told Haaretz that amid the speculations on the slipping Jewish support for the president, the results have shown "fairly solid support for President Obama - the numbers are virtually identical to the June 2008 Gallup poll that showed 62% for Obama and 32% for McCain. Today, it's 6% for Obama and 30% the Republican candidate."

As for the low priority given to Israel, Dr. Jones stresses that it is important to note the statistic reflects how much weight Israel is given in terms of voting priorities, and does not reflect Jewish Americans' support for Israel. "As a voting priority it is low, [but] it doesn't mean it's not important," he said.

Dr. Jones added that "we wanted to be sure on this issue and allowed people to mention their first and second most important voting issue, because it was clear the economy is swapping everything. But even as a second issue Israel didn't move up the list - it was still 5%."

The survey also asked respondents to estimate how well eight public figures represent Jewish values. While questions could be raised about how the list of eight figures was compiled, the results were as follows: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came first (73%), U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan second (66%), New-York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg third (65%), comedian Jon Stewart got 63%, Senator Joe Lieberman (60%), actress Natalie Portman (56%), the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (38%) and comedian Sarah Silverman (37%).