Obama’s Approval Rating Dropping Among Jewish Voters
A new poll, published on June 10 by J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, that generally backs President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, shows that Obama is stuck at the same mid-50s approval ratings that he was registering in April, when US-Israel tensions were prominently featured in the news.
Jim Gerstein, whose GBA Strategies conducted the poll, suggested that Obama and his supporters face an environment among Jews that has largely been shaped by the president’s critics.
“The balance of criticism against the president on issues related to Israel has far outweighed the statements of support for the president, certainly among the organizations that have the largest reach,” Gerstein told reporters on June 10.
The 56 percent approval rating among Jews that Obama scored in the GBA poll is still about 10 points higher than the national average. It is also not the first time that Obama has scored in the 50s among Jews. Obama’s numbers among voting-age Jewish Americans have fluctuated throughout his seven years in office.
This poll, however, follows a high profile and intensive effort by the administration to reassure American Jews that he has the best interests of Israel and Jews worldwide at heart.
The White House launched the outreach in April after weeks of public tensions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the emerging Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation from the Republican leadership to address Congress in March, and remarks by the Israeli leader during his reelection campaign that appeared to reject a two-state solution and denigrate Arab-Israeli voters, further irritated the White House.
June 10’s poll, which was conducted between May 31 and June 3 among 1,000 Jewish adults, showed a gain of just two points—well within the 3.1 percent margin of error—over an April 10 Gallup poll that showed Obama with a 54 percent approval rating among American Jews.
The latest numbers come after Obama gave interviews to two prominent Jewish journalists—The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman and The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg—in which he discussed his closeness to Israel, and another with a leading Israeli television journalist, Ilana Dayan. Obama marked Jewish American Heritage Month with an impassioned speech on May 22 at the Adas Israel Congregation, a Conservative synagogue.
The president’s top aides have made sure to address virtually every major Jewish conference in recent weeks. Most recently, Jacob Lew, the Treasury Secretary, endured boos at the annual conference organized by The Jerusalem Post—a gathering notable in the past for attracting Obama’s most acerbic critics.
The theme of Obama’s messaging is that he sees Israel as a key strategic ally, and also has an emotional attachment to the country and the Jewish people.
“To a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating,” Obama said in the speech at the synagogue.
“The example of Israel and its values was inspiring,” he said. “So when I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully.”
Obama bristles when he is told that he is not reaching Israelis and Jews on the gut level.
“Well, the people here think I’m a pretty good hugger,” he told Dayan after she revealed to him that a confidant of his had told her that Obama is “not a hugger.”
Over the years, the White House has pushed back against perceptions that Obama is cool on Israel, noting that the levels of defense assistance and cooperation between the countries are unprecedented and casting disagreements over Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and the Iran nuclear talks as tactical, not strategic.
However, the president’s critics in the right-wing pro-Israel community have found traction with a narrative built on real and perceived gaps in the relationship.
Some of the criticisms have been grounded in fact, including the Obama’s administration’s decision to keep details of the emerging Iran deal from Israel, in part because it believed that the Israelis were leaking the details to the media.
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