Poll Finds Uneasy Support for Obama Among U.S. Jews, Widespread Disdain for GOP

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U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledges applause at the end of his remarks on Jewish American History Month at the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Washington May 22, 2015.Credit: Reuters

In a 2016 “clash of dynasties” in the U.S. presidential race, American Jews would prefer Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Jeb Bush by a 68%-30% margin, according to a new J Street poll released on Tuesday.

The poll of 1,000 American Jewish adults, conducted by Jim Gerstein of GBA Strategies, finds that American Jews remain solidly Democratic, are mostly supportive of President Obama’s Middle East policies but are nonetheless worried that the United States is “on the wrong track.” Only 39% of American Jews believe the United States is “going in the right direction” compared to 61% who said they “feel things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track,” as the poll questionnaire states.

The uneasiness does seem to extend to Obama’s attitudes towards Israel: 57% approved of Obama’s policies towards Israel but a high 43% concurred with a harsh statement that said that Obama “unfairly undermines Israel’s interests and does not sufficiently support the Jewish State.” Obama’s overall approval rating is 56%, compared to 44% who disapprove, a figure that is higher than the overall population but not as good as in previous polls. Congress fares much worse: 21% approve of its conduct, 79% disapprove.

The poll has a particular and personal silver lining for Benjamin Netanyahu: His overall favorability ratings are higher than Obama’s, Clinton’s or the Democratic Party’s. Netanyahu gets favorable marks of 48%, similar to those of his “competitors," but far less “unfavorable” ratings from American Jews – only 27% compared to around 40% for the other three.

Republicans, on the other hand, are relegated to the bottom of the heap: The GOP itself is favored by 20%, compared to 68% who view it unfavorably. Only 13% have a favorable view of Jeb Bush, only 9% of House Speaker John Boehner and only 7% of Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

The poll finds that very few Jewish Americans consider Israel or Iran to be among the country’s top priorities. Only 7% listed Israel as one of America’s top two priorities and only 6% mentioned Iran. 45% said that the economy is one of the country’s top two priorities, 29% cited ISIS and 25% opted for government spending and the deficit.

The poll did not measure attitudes towards the Israeli government per se; 78% expressed support for an Iran deal compared to only 22% who opposed it, though critics could contend that the formulation of the question did not adequately represent the concerns of its opponents nor mention Israel specifically. Only 22% of those polled said that they had “a great deal of information” about the Iran talks, and another 45% said they had “some information."

The poll found unequivocal support for a two-state solution by 72% of U.S. Jews. Eighty-four percent said they would support an “active role” by the U.S. to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Seventy percent of American Jews approve of the president publicly voicing disagreements with the parties to the conflict, provided he includes both sides; only 46% support voicing disagreements with Israel alone. Fifty-six percent lined themselves behind Obama’s public critique of Netanyahu policies on settlement growth and his Election Day “Arabs coming in droves” statement. Similarly, 69% support American pressure on the sides to the conflict, but only 44% support applying pressure on Israel alone - a figure that could be considered high in and of itself.

According to the poll, 62% of American Jews define themselves as Democrats or Democrat-leaning, compared to 24% who are Republicans or lean towards that party. 10% define themselves as completely independent. 38% define themselves as liberal, 35% as moderate and 19% as conservative. In the 2012 elections, according to this poll, Obama beat Mitt Romney by a margin of 62%-25%.

Finally, according to the demographic makeup of the poll, 35% of adult American Jews are members of synagogues, but only 11% go to shul once a week or more. Ten percent are Orthodox, 20% Conservative and 37% Reform. Forty-one percent participate in any kind of Jewish activity and 43% have been to Israel.