Another myth fallen: Obama's "Jewish problem"

All year long, GOP activists, neocons and pundits claimed Jews would vote in large numbers against Obama. From Gallup today: Jews favor Obama by a 3-1 margin.

Published October 23, 2008 11:00PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Salon's Mike Madden and Walter Shapiro undertook a very difficult task today:  mining through the virtually endless possibilities in order to identify "The punditocracy's Seven Biggest Blunders of the 2008 election."  As I wrote earlier this year in The National Interest: "the record of the American pundit class with regard to the 2008 presidential election can be summarized in one word: wrong."  So I don't envy Madden and Shapiro's job of having to choose the top seven from that lengthy list.

The seven "blunders" they describe are certainly large and embarrassing, but there is a new one worth adding to the list:  namely, Obama has a "Jewish problem," and Republicans are thus likely to attract a much higher percentage of the Jewish vote than even before.  That theory was propounded all over the place, including by then-Weekly-Standard blogger and now McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb, who claimed earlier this year:  

Obama has a Jewish problem, whether or not it's merely guilt by association is irrelevant. Politics is about perception, and the perception is that Obama's one step removed from the Nation of Islam.

Around the same time, Politico's Ben Smith was announcing "Obama's Jewish Problem."  U.S. News & World Report detailed what it called "the uneasy evolution of Obama's relationship with a wide swath of the nation's Jewish voters."   

The myth widely persisted -- from The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald to the lowest and dreariest precincts of the right-wing blogosphere -- despite its being definitively debunked by a handful of journalists, such as The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, who, citing clear evidence, flatly declared back in March that "there is no evidence that Barack Obama has a 'Jewish' problem," and ABC News' generally excellent Jan Crawford Greenberg, who documented that these claims were based on unreliable, isolated anecdotes which "don’t reflect reality" and thus predicted "that Jews -- more than any identifiable demographic group other than African-Americans -- would turn out to support Barack Obama in November."  In May, Salon's Madden also expressed serious doubts about the reliability of those growing claims after reviewing the relevant polling data.

From Gallup's release today entitled Obama Winning over the Jewish Vote:  

Jewish voters nationwide have grown increasingly comfortable with voting for Barack Obama for president since the Illinois senator secured the Democratic nomination in June. They now favor Obama over John McCain by more than 3 to 1, 74% to 22%. . .

The current proportion of U.S. Jews backing Obama is identical to the level of support the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards received in the 2004 presidential election (74%) . . . . Bottom Line:  The Obama/Biden ticket is poised to perform about on par with other recent Democratic presidential tickets when it comes to support from American Jewish voters.

Ira Foreman of the National Jewish Democratic Council said this today:

More than any year in the past, Republican operatives have crowed about the increasing proportion of the Jewish vote going to Republicans this year. In fact, for every election since at least 1972 we’ve heard ‘sky is falling’ predictions concerning the Democratic proportion of the vote. However, it looks like this is going to be one more year when political pundits, some in the media, Jewish Republicans, and other partisans were wrong in their over the top forecasts.

Right-wing polemicists like Goldfarb's boss, Bill Kristol, love to parade around as though they are the arbiters of all things "pro-Jewish" and "anti-Israel" and the like -- hence their decrees that Obama would have trouble attracting Jewish votes.  But polling data conclusively demonstrates that the vast majority of American Jews reject the right-wing and neoconservative worldview -- it is a fringe group among Jews generally. 

Obama's "Jewish problem" was, as it turns out, yet another baseless myth advanced by the Right and their cooperative media amplifiers.  The handful of journalists who actually bothered to consider the empirical evidence -- rather than mindlessly repeating what campaign operatives were telling them or drawing wildly unwarranted, melodramatic conclusions from selected anecdotes -- were able to see that all along.


UPDATE:  A new Quinnipiac poll of Florida today finds Obama with a 5-point lead (49-44) and specifically that Obama leads "77-20 percent among Jews."  Given that Florida was the place where Obama's "Jewish problem" would supposedly be most pronounced, that is additional compelling evidence burying that myth.

One interesting side note is that there have been several speculative indications that Jewish voters strongly dislike Sarah Palin (Newsweek even asked this week:  "Will Palin cost the GOP Jewish Voters?") .  Though these assertions are not all that different in kind than the early, similar speculation regarding Obama's "Jewish problem," even the Podhoretz Family's Commentary Magazine today acknowledged that "Sarah Palin was not well received in the Jewish community."  

Would it be hyperbole to say that it might be definitive proof of the existence of a God if it turns out that it is Bill Kristol's hand-picked candidate -- of all things -- that ends up costing the GOP a substantial number of Jewish votes in key battleground states?  At the very least, such an outcome will give new meaning to the term "sweet justice."


UPDATE II:  Speaking of extreme (and unacknowledged) pundit failures, here's Commentary's Schmuel Rosner yesterday, writing about Obama and the Jewish vote:  

While getting the majority of Jewish votes, it looks as if Obama will not nab quite as large a percentage as previous Democratic candidates have.

But here's the very same Rosner today -- a mere one day later -- writing about today's new Gallup findings:

This was bound to happen: American Jews coming around to support Barack Obama in numbers greater than seen in earlier polls.  A new Gallup poll gives the Democratic candidate a 74-22 lead - similar to the advantage his Democratic predecessors have enjoyed.

To recap:  Rosner, yesterday:  Obama will receive less Jewish support than the typical Democratic presidential candidate receives.  Rosner, today, after the release of the Gallup poll:  Obama is receiving the same level of support as Democrats typically get, and I knew that would happen; it "was bound to happen"!  With transparent concealment of such flagrant errors like that, Rosner will be ready any day now to move to The Weekly Standard (h/t sysprog).


UPDATE III:  From comments, this is a particularly incisive (though anecdote-based) analysis of why McCain's selection of Palin may have alienated large numbers of Jewish voters.  And this provides empirical substantiation to his point about what Palin seems to mean when she praises the "real" America.

By Glenn Greenwald

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