WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (JTA) — A survey published less than two months before the presidential election shows a small bump for President Bush in the American Jewish vote, despite his campaign’s energetic outreach to the community. The nonpartisan poll, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, found Jews backing Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over Bush by nearly a 3-to-1 margin. Bush received 24 percent of respondents’ support in the poll, just a 5 percent increase from his performance among Jewish voters in the 2000 presidential election. Kerry received 69 percent support among those polled in the new survey. Democrats say the poll is another sign that Bush’s messages to the Jewish community are not resonating, while Republicans say it shows Kerry lagging behind recent Jewish support for the Democratic Party’s candidate. The annual poll of Jewish views showed a majority of American Jews disapprove of the U.S. government’s handling of the war against terrorism and the war in Iraq. It also found wide support in the Jewish community for Israel’s current policies in the Middle East, such as unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank security barrier. Still, backing for Bush administration policy in the Middle East is not turning into votes for the president. The Bush/Cheney campaign has been working hard to garner additional Jewish support this election season, capitalizing on support within the Jewish community for Bush’s policies on Israel. But while many tout anecdotal shifts to the Bush camp among Jews, polling data continues to suggest that Jews will not change their traditional alliance with the Democratic Party in November. Market Facts conducted the American Jewish Committee poll, in which 1,000 Jews were surveyed during the course of two weeks last month. Three percent of respondents backed independent candidate Ralph Nader and 5 percent were undecided. The results of the poll, which has a 3 percentage points margin of error, are similar to other surveys of the Jewish vote done within the last year. A National Jewish Democratic Council poll last month had Kerry garnering 75 percent to Bush’s 22 percent, and last year’s American Jewish Committee poll, taken before the Democratic primaries, had Bush getting 31 percent to Kerry’s 59 percent in a theoretical matchup. The American Jewish Committee polls did not seek likely or registered voters, only survey respondents. Market Facts maintains a pool of respondents who have said they are Jewish, and randomly dials from that pool to reach Jews. Democrats say the latest poll shows Jews remain loyal to the party. “It looks pretty similar to our poll,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. He said he believes Kerry could accumulate more Jewish support as the candidate continues to define himself to voters and noted that incumbents rarely do well among undecided voters. But Republicans see the numbers differently, touting Bush’s improvement in Jewish support from 2000. “If these numbers hold, the president will do” significantly better than he did in 2000,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “Thirty percent movement is by any measure a significant measure.” And in an apparent change of strategy, Republicans are highlighting what they describe as Kerry’s relative weak support among Jewish voters, when comparing him to other Democratic presidential candidates of the last 12 years. Vice President Al Gore garnered 79 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000, and President Clinton won 80 percent in 1992 and 78 percent in 1996. But the 1988 Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis, got 64 percent of the Jewish support, and Walter Mondale won 67 percent in 1984. Republicans have been engaged in a strong effort to woo Jewish voters. The White House published a 23-page booklet touting Bush’s support for Jewish issues and the party held events geared toward the Orthodox community at the Republican National Convention last month in New York. In recent weeks, however, Bush backers have minimized expectations, acknowledging that Bush will likely not hit the 30 percent threshold some had predicted a year ago. “We’ve never come out and said, ‘We’ll achieve X amount of the vote,’ ” Michael Lebovitz, Jewish liaison for the Bush/Cheney campaign, said Monday. “We have a long-term commitment.” The goal is now more focused on making a substantial dent in key states such as Florida and Ohio, where the race is close and there are a large percentage of Jews. “The Republicans were never going to win a majority of Jewish voters,” said Ken Goldstein, professor of political science and Judaic studies at the University of Wisconsin. “It was always going to be about trying to steal a few, and it matters where those eight, nine, 10 are coming from.” The poll shows Jews distancing themselves from Bush precisely on issues like foreign policy where the Bush campaign hoped to take traction. A majority of respondents was not happy with the country’s foreign policy direction, with 52 percent disapproving of the handling of the campaign against terrorism, and 66 percent disapproving of the war in Iraq. By contrast, the latest Gallup poll shows 57 percent of Americans believe the United States did not make a mistake in sending American troops in Iraq. In addition, 59 percent of Americans said they were at least somewhat satisfied with the United States’ handling of the war in Iraq. The AJCommittee survey found that 63 percent of American Jews support the Israeli government’s handling of relations with the Palestinian Authority. The unilateral withdrawal plan had 65 percent support, and the security fence garnered 69 percent support. Fifty-seven percent of Jews said they favored the creation of a Palestinian state, and 69 percent of respondents said Israel should be willing to dismantle all or some Jewish settlements in the West Bank to reach a permanent settlement. On the issue of gay rights, three out of four Jews said they opposed an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. About half of those surveyed said they favored legal marriage for gay couples, while an additional 36 percent said they supported civil unions. Thirteen percent wanted no legal recognition. A May CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey found 56 percent of Americans support civil unions, and 51 percent also support the proposed constitutional amendment. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed by the American Jewish Committee said anti-Semitism is a very serious problem in the United States, with an additional 67 percent saying it was somewhat a problem. Most respondents said they thought anti-Semitism in the United States would either increase somewhat or remain the same within the next several years.
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