WASHINGTON (JTA) — American Jews approve and disapprove of President Obama’s performance in roughly equal numbers, according to a new poll by the American Jewish Committee.
AJC’s annual poll, released Monday, showed 45 percent of Jews approve of Obama as opposed to 48 percent disapproving — a statistical tie with the margin of error of 3 percentage points. The numbers show a substantial drop for Obama from the 57 percent who approved of his performance in the 2010 AJC survey.
The survey showed that much of the disappointment stems from his handling of the economy. Asked about areas of performance, the disparity is widest among respondents on the economy, with 59.5 percent disapproving and 39.5 percent approving.
"They continue to be grumpy about the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, they’re pessimistic about the prospects of solving the Iran problem," David Harris, AJC’s director, told JTA. "But they’re grumpiest about the economy."
On foreign policy, there’s also a dead heat, with 46.8 percent approving of Obama’s performance versus 48.3 percent disapproving.
There was a drop in perceptions of how Obama handled the U.S.-Israel relationship, with 53 percent disapproving and 40 percent approving this year, as opposed to 45 percent disapproving and 49 percent approving last year.
American Jews’ perception of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the relationship dropped, too, to 54 percent approving and 32 percent disapproving from 62 percent approving and 27 percent disapproving last year.
Those drops were reflected as well in the slight drop in Americans’ view of the overall U.S.-Israel relationship, with 63 percent characterizing it as positive this year, down from 68 percent last year.
Asked to match Obama against Republican candidates, respondents favored the incumbent, but he performed poorest against Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and a perceived moderate. Romney garnered the backing of 32.1 percent of respondents, as opposed to Obama’s 50.3 percent.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry earned the favor of 24.5 percent of respondents and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) received 19.1 percent, both statistically commensurate with the 22 percent of the Jewish vote that U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earned in the 2008 presidential race.
Perry and Bachmann are in a fierce competition for the approval of the Republican Party’s more conservative wing, and Harris said those numbers suggested a warning for the party’s efforts to eat into the Jewish community’s traditional backing for Democrats.
"For the Republicans, the message is you could win more votes in 2012 but it’s not a given, and there is a quite a spread between the candidate viewed as most moderate and the ones who are more conservative," he said.
The big chunks of undecided respondents in the match-ups suggest a lesson for Democrats as well, Harris said.
"You still have the solid support of many Jewish voters, but don’t take it for granted," he said. "You have to make your case better than you have until now."
Synovate carried out the poll for AJC between Sept. 6 and 21, reaching 800 respondents by phone.