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Jewish Journal

Latest poll bad news for Jewish Republicans

by James D. Besser

October 26, 2006 | 8:00 pm

The Republican Party continues to lavish money on Jewish voters, arguing that only their candidates are reliable on critical questions like support for Israel and terrorism. Jewish Democrats are firing back, blasting their GOP counterparts for undermining the longstanding bipartisanship of the pro-Israel coalition by tainting the entire Democratic Party for the sins of a few.

That's producing a lot of noise as Nov. 7 approaches -- and a nice revenue stream for the Jewish newspapers that run their broadsides as advertising.

But a new poll suggests no signs of a seismic partisan shift in the Jewish community. There are openings for the Republicans, but so far their candidates have been unable to take full advantage of them.

This week the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) released its annual Survey of Jewish Public Opinion, based on interviews conducted between Sept. 25 and Oct. 16. For all the talk about partisan shifts, the survey shows a community that has remained remarkably stable in terms of its politics as the nation goes through a whirlwind of political change.

On questions of party identification, 54 percent identify with the Democratic Party, 16 percent with the GOP, close to last year's figures. Jewish Republicans point out that their figures have climbed sharply from the 2000 level, about 9 percent; Jewish Democrats tout a six-point increase in Democratic identification since the last midterm election in 2002.

About 29 percent identify as independents; once again, the Republicans hope they can pull in some of them with the argument that President Bush has been Israel's best friend in the White House. But the poll responses on specific issues suggest that the GOP strategy has not penetrated much beyond its own Jewish core.

Despite aggressive advertising on the issue, only 28 percent of the Jewish respondents believe the Republicans are "more likely to make the right decision when it comes to dealing with terrorism." 51 percent say they trust the Democrats more on the terror issue.

Nor are many Jews buying the GOP argument, featured in major newspaper ads including in The Jewish Journal, that opposition to the Iraq war is linked to leftist anti-Israel sentiment. 65 percent of the Jewish respondents said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, with only 29 percent saying the country did "the right thing." Only 22 percent say they think the Republican Party is more likely to "make the right decision about the war in Iraq."

The Republican administration fares a little better on the issue of Iran -- but not much. 33 percent approved of the Bush administration's handling of the confrontation over Teheran's nuclear program; 54 percent disapproved. Interestingly the same majority -- 54 percent -- say they oppose U.S. military action against Teheran.

The same pattern holds on the few domestic issues surveyed by the AJCommittee. Only 27 percent say they believe the Republicans are more likely to "ensure a strong economy," with 60 percent saying the Democrats will.

The survey shows that the largest bloc of Jews -- 32 percent -- identify as "moderate, middle of the road." But it also shows a slight increase in those identifying as "liberal," a number that seems to have come at the expense of the category "slightly liberal." That suggests a slight shift to the left, although the shift is close to the three percent margin of error.

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) was quick to tout the AJCommittee poll as confirmation that efforts by the Republicans to "switch the political affiliations of Jewish voters has floundered," according to a statement by the group.

Maybe. But it also shows that the Republicans aren't without hope. The 29 percent of Jewish voters who identify as independents represent a significant opportunity for the GOP. In recent elections selected Republican candidates, including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, have done well with Jewish independents and even with some Democrats.

The Republicans who have drawn significant Jewish support have been relative moderates who have focused on close-to-home issues in their appeals to Jewish voters, not Mideast bombast, and conducted extensive, on-the-ground outreach in the Jewish community.

The Republican strategy of "all Israel, all the time" may appeal to those already inclined to vote for their candidates, but it seems to be having little impact with the majority of Jewish voters who steadfastly reject single-issue politics.

And Republicans who do well with Jewish voters are rarely those most associated with the Christian right, a faction that many political scientists say is the most important reason why so much Jewish-GOP outreach has been ineffective.

Single-interest, pro-Israel politics is a proven nonstarter with the Jewish center; the religious right remains a deal breaker for many Jews who might otherwise be inclined to vote for Republicans.

Once again, this year's AJCommittee poll points to a Jewish community that is resoundingly centrist, but with a stubborn streak of liberalism that years worth of aggressive GOP outreach and concern about Israel have not really dented. Tracker Pixel for Entry

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