Jews: We favor Rudy & Hillary

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Tomorrow the American Jewish Committee will be releasing its annual survey of American Jewish opinion. There’s plenty of interesting stuff in it, especially about the presidential race…

* FAVORABLE/NOT FAVORABLE: Hillary Clinton is the clear leader, with a 53 favorable rating. That’s not such a shocker, given the liberal and Democratic leanings of American Jews and her longstanding ties to the community. But some people will be surprised to see Rudy Giuliani – a Republican – at number two, with 41%. Next comes Obama and Edwards in a tie at 38%, then McCain at 31%, Romney at 15% and Thompson 11%.

Clinton’s and Giuliani’s strong showing are even more dramatic when broken down by party. Among Jews who identify as Democrats, Clinton scored a 70% favorable rating, compared to 48% for Edwards and 45% for Obama. Giuliani registered 75% among Jewish Republicans, followed by McCain at 49% and Romney and Thompson at 32%.

(To get a sense of how volatile the overall electoral picture is: Survey respondents were not asked about Mike Huckabee – currently the GOP frontrunner in Iowa – because he did not meet the threshold of 10% in national polls.)

Among all Jews, the highest not favorable rating went to Thompson with 43%, then Romney at 41%, McCain and Giuliani at 38%, followed by Clinton with 29% and Obama and Edwards at 26%.

Does that 41% favorable rating mean Giuliani could surpass President Bush’s 19% showing among Jews in 2000 and 24% showing in 2004? Well it’s certainly impressive – at this stage in the game – that Giuliani could score that high, with Jewish Republicans accounting for about only a quarter of those who view Giuliani favorably. That said, given the Democratic and liberal leanings of the American Jewish community, it seems like a safe bet that there are plenty of Jewish Dems and independents who like Giuliani, but will still end up voting for the Democrat, especially if it’s Clinton.

* PARTY/IDEOLOGICAL BREAKDOWN: Fifty-eight percent of Jews identified as Democrats, 26% as independent and 15% as Republican. Forty-three percent described themselves as liberal to some degree, 31% identified as moderates and 25% said conservative to some degree.

Not surprisingly, given those figures, slightly more than 60% said that the Democratic Party is more likely to make the right decision about the war in Iraq and more likely to ensure a strong economy; Republicans scored 21% on Iraq and 26% on the economy. Democrats also got the nod on dealing with terrorism, but by a slimmer, 53%-30% margin.

* ISSUES: Here’s a startling stat – only 6% of American Jews identified Israel as the issue that will be most important for them in the election. Does that mean Jewish voters care less about the Middle East than generally assumed? More likely, in my opinion, is a theory often advanced by Democratic strategist Steve Rabinowitz – Jewish voters tend to assume that when it comes to Israel, not much separates the candidates, so they can focus in on other issues. The other important point making on this front is that 16% cited the war in Iraq, 14% pointed to terrorism & national security and 6% selected the energy crisis – so even the voters that place the highest priority on Middle East-related issues, don’t simply view the situation through the Israel lens.

The overall order on the issue ranking was: economy & jobs (23%), health care (19%), war in Iraq (16%), terrorism & national security (14%), support for Israel (6%), immigration (6%), energy crisis (6%), education (4%) and not sure (5%).

This section of the study is misleading without some explanation: Callers were given a list of issues from which to choose – and the list was based on a similar poll commissioned by The New York Times. The idea, the AJC told JTA’s D.C. bureau chief, Ron Kampeas, was to allow for a comparison between Jews and non-Jews.

In theory, that’s certainly worthwhile. The problem is that two of the issues that many Jews feel the most passionate about – abortion and the separation of church and state – were not on the list. No matter how good an economic program or plan for universal health care a candidate has, Jewish voters will run away if he or she calls for a federal ban on abortion and/or is perceived as wanting to lower the church-state wall in a significant way.

And, finally (for now) check out these stats on immigration and energy. Seventy-nine percent of American Jews said that illegal immigration was either a serious or somewhat serious problem. Let’s just say, however, Jews see things differently than Lou Dobbs: Two-thirds said that America’s policy should be to allow illegal immigrants to stay if they meet certain criteria, compared to 15% who said they all should be deported and 14% who said they should be allowed to work for a limited amount of time.

And arguably the most dramatic finding: 99% of American Jews think like Thomas Friedman on at least one point – they think achieving energy independence is either very important or somewhat important. Sixty-nine percent say the best way for the U.S. to handle its energy needs is to develop alternative sources, compared to 7% who pointed to greater energy production, 11% who said greater energy conservation and 11% who chose all three. And 73% of American Jews reject the argument that “the United States should develop independent sources of energy even at the risk of damaging the environment.”

(Crossposted from Ami Eden’s Telegraph blog)

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