Will Obama Hold the Jewish Vote?

The exit polls from the 2008 presidential race suggested that Barack Obama overwhelmingly  defeated John McCain with Jewish voters, winning by 78% to 21%. As I wrote at the time, while it was certain that Obama handily defeated McCain with Jewish voters, his actual margin of victory was not at all clear.

Exit polls have consistently under-sampled Jewish voters as a share of all voters and are likely to interview a somewhat skewed sample of the Jewish population (more liberal voters and fewer Orthodox Jews, who tend to be more conservative voters). In fact, the exit polls have consistently overstated  the Democratic share of the vote overall and in individual states for years, as President-elect John Kerry (for 8 hours) learned on Election Day in 2004.

The exit polls do not claim to survey a random sample of Jewish voters or other subgroups within their total population. Nonetheless, the results from exit polls of one presidential race can be compared to those from other presidential contests to get a sense of any movement within the Jewish community over time. Jewish support for Republican candidates was in the 30% range until George Herbert Walker Bush ran for re-election in 1992 against Bill Clinton and saw his Jewish support level crash to barely 10%. That level crept up for a few elections to hit 25% in the 2004 exit poll until sliding a few points in 2008.

With the 2012 election a few weeks away, various surveys are purporting to show that Barack Obama is maintaining a very large lead among Jewish voters this time around, though his support level may have slipped a few points from  2008. Many articles were written after an IBD/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP survey in September suggested that Obama was defeating Romney with Jewish voters by only 59% to 35%, which, if carried forward until November, would be the weakest performance by a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter won only 45% of the Jewish vote in a three-candidate race  in 1980 (Reagan 39%, Anderson 15%).

The number of articles written about this poll result probably matched the number of Jews in in the IBD/CSM/TIPP survey. Only 808 registered voters were polled nationally, and given the Jewish split of the vote that is listed, it is fairly apparent that the sample likely contained  32 Jews (almost 4% of all those surveyed, an over-representation). They split 19 for Obama, 11 for Romney, and 2 undecided.  No one should spend two seconds obsessing over, or drawing conclusions from, this sample.

Now, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) is out with its own survey, a random sample of 1,000 Jews, and it indicates that Obama has a big lead (almost 41 points ) over Romney among Jewish voters, 65% to 24%. For liberal Jews, the AJC survey is a sign that all is well in the Jewish world. It assures them that, despite attacks by groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition directed against President Obama for his problems in dealing with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Israel or his dithering on Iran’s nuclear program, Jews are, for the most part, staying on the Democratic reservation again.