We are puzzled why so much noise has been made about a recent poll showing that 75 percent of American Jewish voters are still Democrats. That statistic doesn’t strike us as terribly surprising, or newsworthy. Rather, it seems to be telling us what we already know.
The poll, conducted by the Mellman Group for the Jewish Electoral Institute, a new Democratic group, appears to be a pre-election reminder to rally the party’s Jews. That said, we suspect that if a group of Jewish Republicans were to conduct a similar poll, the results would be substantially the same.
The reason is clear. The vast majority of Jews fall into the centrist/liberal/ progressive camp, and identify with the issues and culture of a large segment of the Democratic coalition. And while 92 percent say they support Israel, the Jewish state is not the only thing that drives their votes.
Asked to rate issues, 83 percent said health care was at least “very important,” 90 percent ranked the Supreme Court the same, and 84 percent said the same about safety net protections like Medicare and Social Security. In their basket of issues, 52 percent ranked Israel as “very important.”
Israel has historically been a bipartisan issue. It has become less so in recent years, with many pointing to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to kill the Iran nuclear deal during the Obama administration as a turning point. Since then, Republican Jewish talking points have painted Democrats as increasingly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian — as if one couldn’t be supportive of both sides. And then, President Donald Trump gave new life to the narrative, relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and anointing himself the “most pro-Israel president.”
Interestingly, the Jewish Electoral Institute poll found that only 25 percent of Jews approve of the job Trump is doing, even though 51 percent approve of the president’s Israel policies. This lends credence to the argument that what Republicans call Democrats cooling on Israel may actually be more of a commentary on the performance of the U.S. president — mixed in with concern about the Israeli prime minister. That explanation is borne out by the poll’s finding that 59 percent say they are comfortable supporting Israel and also criticizing its government.
We view the picture painted by the poll as a healthy one. The American Jewish community is mature and can balance multiple issues without turning any one of them into a zero-sum game. They support both Israel and a diverse, inclusive America. And despite some disagreements on policy issues with Israel, they don’t want to abandon the Jewish state.
The poll also confirms that Israel isn’t the issue on which American Jews choose party affiliation. And that’s the way it should be.