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NY Times perpetuates myth that American Jews are single-issue voters

By Dan Fleshler | August 21, 2010

More and more Jewish voters are deserting the Democratic party, according to a Pew Research Center poll. The survey shows that 33% of American Jewish voters now identify or lean Republican, up from 20% in 2008.

That’s interesting and troubling to a died-in-the-wool Democrat like me. But Charles M. Blow’s take on the poll in the New York Times is even more troubling, because it bolsters the canard that American Jews are single-issue voters who judge politicians mainly on the basis of their positions on Israel. Commenting on Pew’s results, Blow asserts, “This is no doubt a reaction, at least in part, to the Obama administration’s having taken a hard rhetorical stance with Israel while `taking special time and care on our relationship with the Muslim world.’”

Blow devotes much of the article to describing the Obama administration’s rocky relationship with Israel and the extent to which this troubles the Jewish community.

But he does not even mention the possibility that many Jewish voters are troubled by Obama and the Dems for the same reasons that other voters are troubled: the sorry state of the economy, concerns about the health care initiative, a general feeling that the country is heading in the wrong direction, etc. And he offers no evidence whatsoever that Obama’s dealings with Israel are more important to these voters than domestic matters.

On the contrary, any number of surveys show that Israel-related matters are a relatively low priority for most American Jewish voters. When pollsters from Gerstein Agne asked American Jews in March to choose the top two issues they will use to decide their 2010 Congressional votes, Israel ranked 7th. It was deemed to be less important than the economy, health care, the deficit and government spending, Social Security and Medicare, and terrorism and national security. Israel was given the same ranking as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only 10% of the respondents chose Israel as one of their top two issues.

Similarly, while Israel’s fate is certainly a concern for most American Jews, an American Jewish Committee poll in November, 2007 revealed that it is an obsession for a tiny minority of Jewish voters:

When asked to pick their most important campaign issue from a list of options, 23% of those surveyed named the economy and jobs, followed by health care (19%), the war in Iraq (16%), terrorism and national security (14%), support for Israel (6%), immigration (6%) and the energy crisis (6%).

Does Israel matter to the American Jews who have jumped ship and joined the Republicans in recent months? Most likely. But nowhere in the results of the Pew poll or any previous survey is there an indication that issues connected to Israel are the most important factors in determining American Jews’ political affiliations.

As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, “Israel is one of the things Americans Jews care about and worry about, but when it is time to exercise our civic responsibilities, what happens here at home is what matters most to us.”

Topics: American Jewish Committee, American Jews, Arab-Israeli conflict, Charles M. Blow, Obama administration, Palestinians | 18 Comments »

18 Responses to “NY Times perpetuates myth that American Jews are single-issue voters”

  1. Aaron Says:
    August 22nd, 2010 at 12:24 am

    I don’t have a comment on this topic, just wanted to say that I’m glad to see Realistic Dove is back after that long hiatus. This is one of the best blogs on Israel-Palestine out there.

  2. Bill Pearlman Says:
    August 22nd, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Dans’s actually right on this one. Conservative Republican Jews care about the security of Israel. Liberal Democratic Jews don’t. No argument.

  3. Richard Witty Says:
    August 22nd, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    This liberal Jew cares about Israel, and cares that Israel act humanely, so that peace with its neighbors (personal and political) is possible.

    The other feature of the Blow article, and amplified in Mondoweiss, is or the weight of interests of Jewish campaign contributors, you know “Jewish money”.

    I don’t know that many wealthy Jewish donors. The few that I do know are liberal and emphasize domestic social concerns OVER concerns about Israel.

    The assertion that “Jewish money” is a one-issue approach, is actually false, not only just a misinterpretation.

    Its similar to the theme that “Jewish interests” got the US into Iraq. The same generalization of “Jews did” and “Jewish money did” conflicts with the reality, that the majority of Jews opposed the war in Iraq, and that there was diversity of opinions by Jewish political contributions relative to the war in Iraq. (Campaign contributions are public, but the opinions of the MANY individuals is only public if they choose to disclose. That is different than the electoral results, which are exit polled to a level of confidence in the results.)

    The conflation of “Jews did” from “some individuals did” is what constitutes fascism, and applied as anti-semitism.

    I hate it when it occurs, and sours my willingness to support most Palestinian solidarity efforts.

  4. nadine Says:
    August 22nd, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    “But [Charles Blow] does not even mention the possibility that many Jewish voters are troubled by Obama and the Dems for the same reasons that other voters are troubled”

    That might explain why Jews are as troubled by Obama as other religious groups, but not why they are more troubled than other ethnic groups, as Pew reports. No other group matches the +13% switch to Rep/Lean Rep of the Jews from 2008 to 2010.

  5. Dan Fleshler Says:
    August 22nd, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Nadine:

    One can’t rely on this poll to assert that Jews are “more troubled than other ethnic groups.”

    A pollster friend looked at the Pew survey and wrote “party ID does not shift as dramatically as this poll suggests and we should keep in mind the variance that comes with a small sample size such as this (a quick estimate suggests it is about 400 interviews), and look at other data for comparison…Gallup showed Jewish ID at 69D/23R/6I in January 2010, and they showed the generic Congressional vote at 62D/28R…as recently as June 2010. Taking the Pew data into consideration, this suggest that party ID [of Jews] is currently in the mid-high 60s…”

    That’s high, relative to the rest of the country.

  6. nadine Says:
    August 22nd, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    “A pollster friend looked at the Pew survey and wrote “party ID does not shift as dramatically as this poll suggests…”

    This next election is likely to be atypical in that regard, if the unprecedented Rasmussen Republican +6% in the generic Congressional vote holds up.

    At any rate, I was merely pointing out the different results for Jews within the Pew poll, not comparing it to other polls.

  7. Bill Pearlman Says:
    August 23rd, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Rich, serious question. The Iranian reactor went hot this weekend. I honestly don’t know what a president McCain would do here but I do know that the Iranians wouldn’t be laughing at him. And Israel wouldn’t be fearing a sellout. Not the case with your boy. Your thoughts

  8. Tom Mitchell Says:
    August 23rd, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Bill,
    So you are now an expert on what the Iranian leadership thinks? Maybe you should be sure to inform the CIA. I’m sure they’ll hire you immediately.

  9. Bill Pearlman Says:
    August 23rd, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Tom: I don’t have to be a genius to know that they think Obama is a joke. Or a coconspirator. Why do you think otherwise.

  10. Tom Mitchell Says:
    August 23rd, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    I don’t think the Iranian leadership makes much distinction among American politicians, the Soviets certainly didn’t before detente.

  11. Tom Mitchell Says:
    August 23rd, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Dan,
    So in other words, what your saying is that American Jews are really Jewish-Americans. Most ethnic groups that have been in the country for several generations don’t tend to vote primarily based on an administration’s policy towards their ancestral homeland.

  12. nadine Says:
    August 23rd, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    excellent interview with Nobel winning prof. of mathematics Robert Aumann, where he applies game theory to international relations:

    http://www.haaretz.com/magazine/week-s-end/still-game-for-change-1.302319

    “In game theory, there is the paradox of the extortionist. Someone offers Reuven and Shimon NIS 1,000 together, if they can manage to agree on the question of how to split the money between them. Reuven says to Shimon: ‘Great, let’s split it half and half.’ Shimon says: ‘No. I am not leaving here with less than NIS 900. You will get 100. Take it or leave it.’ Reuven says to him: ‘Be rational. What is the difference between us? Why should you get more?’ Shimon says: ‘Rational or not, do what you want. Either I leave here with 900 or with nothing. You decide.’

    “Reuven thinks and says: ‘Okay, NIS 100 is money nevertheless. What am I going to do with this irrational mule? I myself am rational and I will take the 100. I need to advance my goal of getting as much money as possible, and my choice is between zero and 100. One hundred is still something.’

    “What is the paradox? That the irrational person gets more than the rational person. Each needs to decide whether he wants to insist on what he is asking for, or is prepared to compromise. In order to persuade Shimon not to give in, Reuven first has to convince himself. Without willingness to concede, he will not succeed in persuading [anyone else].

  13. Y.Ben-David Says:
    August 29th, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Tom-
    Irish-American voters are very concerned with the situation in Northern Ireland, even if they have been in ths US since the Potato Famine in the 1840’s. Latin American immigrants are strongly concerned with US policy to those countries, even if they have been in the US a long time. Same with Greek-Americans, who have a particularly strong lobby. Part of the reason is that they maintain contact with relatives who are still in those countries. There is nothing unique about the American’s Jews interest in and concern for Israel.

  14. Bill Says:
    August 29th, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Very few Irish-American voters nowadays are very concerned with the Northern Ireland situation, Y. Your understanding of American politics is a bit out of date.

  15. Tom Mitchell Says:
    August 29th, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Y. Ben-David and Pearlman:

    The situation for Irish-Americans is somewhat in between what the two of you say. The most influential Irish-American politicians in Congress formed a group known as the Four Horseman composed of Sen. Patrick Moynihan and Gov. Hugh Carey of NY, Sen. Ted Kennedy of MA, and House Speaker Tip O’Niell of MA in 1977. In the 1980s they formed the Friends of Ireland and widened the membership to all members of Congress of Irish-American ancestory who were interested in Northern Ireland and Irish-American bilateral relations. The Friends opposed the Republican Movement and supported John Hume and the moderate SDLP party.

    In 1992 Clinton won the backing of an influential group of Irish-Americans that was primarily composed of Irish who had emigrated during the 20th century after Irish independence. Many of its members were born in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Except for a small minority those Irish-Americans whose ancestors emigrated from Ireland to the U.S. during the great famine of the 1840s and up to the Civil War and beyond have assimilated and although rhetorically anti-British they are much more concerned about American domestic issues.

  16. Bill Says:
    August 29th, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Tom Mitchell,

    I assure you I am not Pearlman. He’s not the only Bill in the world.

    Your evidence for Irish American concern with the Troubles all dates from the 80’s and 90’s. I think since the Good Friday Accords it’s greatly diminished as an issue.

  17. Tom Mitchell Says:
    August 30th, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Bill,
    Sorry for the mistake. I think Ben-David was probably thinking of the 1990s.

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