Jewish Journal


October 4, 2012

Post-debate notes: The 5% Jewish question



President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney at their presidential election debate in Denver, October 3, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)


In my new book about The Jewish Vote - if you don't yet have it – now would be a good time to buy it here (for Kindle) or here (paperback) – I discuss Romney's "long history of – your choice – changing his mind or flip-flopping on a whole set of social issues" and use the example of abortion. But then I go on to write:

The question really is whether Romney truly changed his mind, in which case he is definitely ideologically to the right of most Jewish voters, or whether he is just masquerading his true feelings for political considerations (not a noble position, but one that politicians are forced to take from time to time). However, what his current position makes clear is this: If you believe him to be telling the truth or not, abortion is not an issue on which a President Romney is going to spend much of his time. That’s essentially the pragmatic argument Jewish voters hear from Republicans on the economy – don’t look to the ideology, look to the probable actions. Romney will not erase Medicare for today’s elderly, and he will not try to change the rules on abortion, no matter what his views truly are.


No doubt, yesterday's debate makes the Romney-the-pragmatist case much more pronounced, and gives voters – including the small pool of undecided Jewish voters – an opportunity to take a second look at a more moderate Romney. A moderate Romney is the only Romney that is sellable to undecided Jewish voters. Did he succeed with them yesterday? Would they be willing to reconsider his candidacy?


A lot has been said and written in recent days about the two polls – Florida and Ohio – conducted by the AJC. As I've already written, these should be treated very carefully. The margin of error is significant – 6% for Florida, 6.4% for Ohio. But let's take another look at the Ohio poll to understand what it means.

Twenty –nine percent would vote for Romney (before the debate), 64% for Obama, 7% are undecided. Of the undecided, 1% lean toward Romney and 1% toward Obama – making this a 30% -65% race. The question, then, is what happens with the 5% who are still undecided.

If they split their votes between the two candidates, we get a 32%-67% race. This will be an achievement for Romney, and a problem for Obama. If the 5% decide not to vote and eliminate themselves from the count, the outcome would be just a bit different. More like 31%-68%. But what if the undecided split their votes in favor of one of the candidates?

In question 3, we see that when the Independents are forced to pick a party, more tilt toward the Democratic Party (13% for the Dem, 9% for the GOP). If the same proportion of undecided presidential votes goes to the candidates, this will be more like a 30%-70% race, putting Obama closer to his 2008 Jewish numbers (74%). Of course, the debate, or other developments might make the 5% tilt toward Romney. In which case, he could reach as high as 35%, giving the Republican Party a share of the Jewish vote they have not seen since George H.W. Bush.


But remember, all this is about Ohio. The poll of the general Jewish population is a little better for Obama. True, he only gets 65% of the vote – but Romney only gets 24%. Since the 10% undecided (9.9% to be precise) weren't asked about their leanings, one can see a 34% ceiling for Romney and 75% ceiling for Obama. However, there are a couple of warning signs, giving one the impression that Obama might not be the one getting more than half of the undecided. For example, only 63% "strongly" or "somewhat" approve of Obama's economic policies. The economy is by far the most important issue for the voters.


On the other hand, we should also take another look at party identification trends among Jewish voters – an issue that we continuously follow through our Jewish Party Identification J Meter tracker. With the third survey of 2012 available for us now, we seem to have a slight increase in Democratic identification this year. The GOP, with 16% of Jews identifying with it, has to get almost half of the Independent vote to reach 30% and up. In the Ohio poll, it looks like such goal is achievable. In the Florida poll, not as much. The bottom line is quite clear though: Romney, by playing the moderate and having handily won the debate, increased his chances with Jewish voters. If the latest AJC numbers pointy to 5% undecided that can put Romney at 35%, and the latest Gallup numbers found 5% that can put him at 30% - following the debate the GOP candidate can hope for some good news from the Jewish front.

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