Poll: No Jewish-GOP Surge
With midterm congressional elections only weeks away, Republican leaders continue to hope that President George W. Bush’s strong pro-Israel positions and leadership in the war on terror will entice Jewish voters to the GOP side of the aisle. But a new Gallup Poll splashes cold water on those hopes. According to the survey, which examines party identification by religion, “there was little meaningful change in the ways in which Americans of any religious leaning identified their basic political orientation after Sept. 11.”
That includes Jewish voters, whose identification with the Republican Party remains below 20 percent. Those numbers come only months after a surge of news stories describing an impending shift to the GOP in response to Bush’s strong support for Israel’s campaign against suicide bombers
and the growing pro-Israel zeal of congressional Republicans. Those reports also took note of the relative silence on Israel by congressional Democrats.
In a series of polls — combined because individual surveys do not include enough Jewish respondents to be statistically reliable — 50 percent of Jews surveyed claim Democratic affiliation, about one-third call themselves independents and only 17 percent identify as Republicans.
That stands in sharp contrast to Protestants, with 39 percent identifying as Republicans and 32 percent as Democrats.
“The party identification of Jews appears to be remarkably stable,” according to the Gallup report. “An analysis of over 30,000 Gallup Poll interviews conducted from 1992 to 2001 shows almost exactly the same distribution of party identification among the Jewish population, as is the case in the most recent year and a half.” The Jewish sample consisted of 408 respondents.
Marshall Wittman, a senior fellow with the conservative Hudson Institute, said the data reflect what GOP leaders have known for a long time: Despite the media hype about a big shift, Jewish voters continue to cling to old voting patterns.
“I’m not surprised by the Republican numbers,” he said. “Especially at the congressional level, the Jewish community is still a very tough nut to crack for the Republican Party. You hear many more positive things about Bush [among Jews], but that is unlikely to translate into votes for other Republicans.”
In data collected through 2001, an overwhelming majority of Jews — 73 percent — described themselves as moderate or liberal, only 23 percent as conservative. Forty-two percent of Protestants and 34 percent of Catholics claimed the conservative label.
Bush’s job approval ratings among Jewish voters surged after Sept. 11, but they remained significantly below the levels of Catholics and Protestants.
According to the most recent numbers, 66 percent of Jews surveyed approve of Bush’s handling of his job, compared to 81 percent of Protestants and 82 percent of Catholics.
The poll, Wittman said, included one hopeful sign for the GOP: the “surprisingly high” number of Jews who identify themselves as independents.
“Jews have been overwhelmingly Democratic in identification over the years,” he said. “Any weakening of that identification has to be good for the Republicans. If you pushed most of these independents, they would still probably vote Democratic. Still, it’s a departure from the New Deal generation.”
A top political scientist agreed.
“The history of American party identification is that when groups are shifting from one party to another, they don’t do it in one fell swoop,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. “Generally they do it through third party or independent phases.”
Republican politicians who have mastered the argot of the Jewish community and who have unimpeachable pro-Israel credentials may be able to tap that independent bloc, he said, citing the example of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Still, “any change is likely to be slow and incremental. There won’t be any stampedes,” Ginsberg said.
Jewish Democrats were crowing about the survey.
In a statement, the National Jewish Democratic Council said the Gallup analysis is particularly significant because of a recent Hillel survey of Jewish college freshmen showing that only 9.5 percent of those surveyed consider themselves “conservative or far right.”
“Viewed together, these studies take on the myths that American Jewish adults are moving towards the right, and that Jewish college students are doing likewise,” said NJDC director Ira Forman.
Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, downplayed the significance of the Gallup numbers.
“We never expected a realignment of [voter] registration,” he said. “What is clear over the last few election cycles is a realignment of votes. There is undisputable evidence that more and more Jews are voting for Republican candidates across the board.”
Brooks also said that other surveys show that up to 48 percent of Jews “would consider” voting for Bush in 2004, “which we see as the most encouraging aspect.”
Bibi Educates Congress
Israel’s vulnerability to Iraqi attack is not the most important factor in the debate now raging in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill over the expected strike, but it is a growing complication for U.S. policymakers.
That complication was highlighted last week by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in an appearance before the House Government Reform Committee said that Israel supports U.S. pre-emptive action against Iraq, “even though we stand on the front line, while others criticize it as they sit comfortably on the sidelines.”
Netanyahu warned, however, that Israel “must be protected,” and said the U.S. government should provide help with civil defense measures such as smallpox vaccinations.
Much more worrisome, he said, are reports that Iraq may be only months away from a nuclear weapons capability.
“No gas mask and no vaccine can protect against nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “Science has not yet invented such a device.”
Netanyahu also warned that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would likely share his nuclear technology with terror groups like al Qaeda.
The Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), has become Netanyahu’s favorite Washington soapbox. He testified before that panel only nine days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Netanyahu’s appearance wasn’t without controversy. He was the only witness to address the question of Israel’s vulnerability in the face of a U.S. attack against Iraq, which incensed Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a leading member of the Jewish delegation in the House.
In his opening statement Waxman decried the one-man witness list, saying that while “the topic of this hearing is important, I regret that the minority was not consulted in advance about witnesses for today’s hearing. … To the best of my knowledge the chairman did not send invitations to a single member of the current Israeli government.”
Waxman acknowledged that Netanyahu is “respected widely for his expertise,” but that he “represents only one point of view.”
Before the hearing, Waxman suggested additional witnesses such as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak — a suggestion that was ignored by Burton.
Also on the Iraq front: Jewish leaders generally praised President Bush’s speech to the UN Security Council last week laying out the case against Iraq and making it clear that Saddam represents a threat to the international community, not just to the United States.
“From where I sit, there was a lot of acclaim for the president’s speech,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “The president is being very clever in covering all the bases, so that down the road nobody will be able to accuse him of failing to consult.
“He has put the ball in the UN’s court, but it will stay there only temporarily. He has really challenged the UN to put up or shut up.”
Last week the AJCommittee and several other Jewish groups took advantage of the opening of the Security Council and the presence of scores of foreign ministers in New York to reinforce the administration’s case on Iraq.
“In more than 60 meetings, we’ve emphatically urged support for the U.S. position,” Harris said.
During those meetings, he said, there were indications that “the president’s message is getting across. The much-touted gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world has narrowed.”
The Church-State Front
Iraq and homeland security are the big-ticket items on the table as Congress moves toward adjournment in October, but a number of issues with church-state implications continue to percolate.
Last week the House leadership abruptly pulled from the floor a bill providing education tax credits to help low-income families pay for private and parochial schools.
The reason, according to political analysts: They didn’t have the votes to pass it.
Supporters say the measure could help poor families rescue their children from failing inner-city public schools. Opponents say it would help only a tiny number of students and open the door to more direct public funding of religious schools.
Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, said the real problem was that “too many [House members] were out of town” when the vote was scheduled, and predicted it will resurface before Congress adjourns next month.
Opponents, including most liberal Jewish groups, say that’s a stretch. With the congressional calendar clogged with appropriations bills and the measure creating a big Department of Homeland Security, finding time for the education tax credit bill will be tough.
Over in the Senate, Democratic and Republican leaders are playing beat the clock as they try to work out a procedural agreement on how to bring to the floor a bill containing the remnants of President Bush’s faith-based initiative — now mostly a collection of tax breaks designed to promote charitable giving.
The House has already passed a much more sweeping measure including “charitable choice” provisions — controversial programs that would make it easier for religious groups to receive federal grants to provide services.
Jewish groups are divided along familiar lines, with liberal groups opposing the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act, or CARE, and Orthodox groups supporting it. One big exception: the United Jewish Communities, which is pushing hard for the measure.
Officially, House Democratic leaders say they’ll try to get the CARE bill wrapped up before adjournment in three weeks, but Capitol Hill sources say Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is in no hurry.