How much damage has Obama caused to the continuation of Jewish support for the Democratic Party?
Two recent polls point to the weakening alliance, which once appeared to be strong, between the US Jewry and the Democratic Party, mainly due to US President Barack Obama's policy towards Israel. This change could have a dramatic effect on the identity of the next American president.
The prestigious Gallup research institute published unsurprising data this month about Obama's approval rate among US Jews: From nearly 80% when he was first elected to 54% today.
It should be clear to the Democrats that this drop stems from Obama's chilly – even hostile – attitude towards Israel, the estrangement from Israel, the hostile leaks to loyal journalists, the freezing interviews, the Kerry initiative, which would have led to the destruction of both Israel and the Palestinians had it been implemented, and the reserved policy during Operation Protective Edge.
Analysis: Clinton's possible weakness among the Jewish community is her close relationship with Obama, in light of his rift with Netanyahu. In order to stress her commitment to Israel, she will likely visit the Jewish state this year and make statements which will be music to Israeli ears.
According to the poll, the more traditional the Jewish public, the lower its support for Obama – 34% among Jews who visit the synagogue at least once a week.
Another indication that this is an ongoing phenomenon is the Jewish voting rate for the Democrats in the Congress elections last year – only 66% compared to the traditional 80%.
Obama is reaching the end of his term, and the question is what is the extent of the damage he has caused, and may still cause, to the continuation of the Jewish support for the Democratic Party, which was born following the Democrats' support for Israel from its very first days. This support has two dramatic implications in the upcoming presidential election, which may see a tight race.
The first implication is that there are at least three important states in which the Jewish vote can tip the scales: Florida (with a Jewish population that keeps growing), Illinois and Pennsylvania. Florida is critical for a victory, either Republican or Democratic. The second implication is that the Jews are known as generous donors to the Democratic Party. Now, as the US Jewry is shifting to the right, like in Israel, the amount of donations to the Republicans is increasing.
There is another measure of the Jews' shift to the right: The two parties' attitude towards Israel. The Republicans' starting point since Gallup began studying this attitude was low: In 1988, only 47% of Republicans identified with Israel more than with the Palestinians; today, 83% identity with Israel – nearly an all-time record. The jump in the Republicans' solidarity with Israel can also be attributed to the fact that many Jews have joined the party.
In the same time period, from 1988 to this day, the Democrats' solidarity with Israel more than with the Palestinians rarely crossed the 50% mark (today it stands at 48%). From 1993 to 2001, only 35% of Democrats identified with Israel more than with the Palestinians. So many Jews are asking themselves: If the Democrats are not very fond of Israel, why should we be fond of them?
In the last year and a half of his term, Obama will decide whether the Jews will reach a rift with the Democrats or whether he and his party will succeed in curbing the erosion in the Jews' support (Hillary Clinton is still an enigma to most Jews when it comes to Israel). An unfriendly attitude or a security or diplomatic risk to Israel will change many Jews' patterns of affiliation and the way they vote. When that happens, none of the Democrats should ask why the Jewish vote is abandoning them.