Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Survey: Jews Warming to Bush but Oppose His Domestic Agenda

January 13, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

U.S. Jews remain solidly Democratic, although support for President Bush has increased.

Those results come from a new survey, which also shows sharp drops in Jewish support for issues dear to the Republican president — including the war on terrorism and the Iraq conflict.

The findings are part of the American Jewish Committee’s annual survey of American Jewry.

The survey shows a sharp rise in concern about anti-Semitism in Europe; an increase in concern about anti- Semitism in America; strong support for keeping the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance; strong support for a multilateral U.S. foreign policy; and a small rise in support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The survey was conducted by Market Facts Inc., which surveyed 1,000 Jews by phone between Nov. 25 and Dec. 11. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Against Lieberman, Bush’s share of the Jewish vote would fall to 24 percent, the same percentage of respondents who said they voted for the president in 2000, according to the survey.

Republicans and Democrats alike said they were heartened by the poll.

Ira Forman, the executive director of the national Jewish Democratic Council, suggested the numbers showed only slight improvement considering the Republicans’ hard work in cultivating the Jewish community.

“This is not a conservative, Republican community, and that’s what these numbers screen out,” he said. “They’ve not made many converts, from anything I can see.”

Republicans said the numbers were encouraging, given that Bush has yet to launch his campaign.

“He has not been out there making his case to the Jewish community and has been subjected to an unrelenting barrage of criticism among all the candidates,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “In spite of that, he is doing very well among Jewish voters.”

The survey shows that 51 percent of respondents consider themselves Democrats, 16 percent Republicans and 31 percent independents.

David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director, said of the increase in support for Bush: “We have to presume it is driven by President Bush’s policy, particularly with respect to Israel and in the war on terrorism.”

That increase falls short of the 39 percent support Reagan got in 1980, against an incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, perceived by some Jews as hostile to Israel. Reagan’s support dropped to 31 percent in 1984, after tensions with Israel over the Lebanon war and the sale of AWACS airplanes to Saudi Arabia.

The survey also shows sharp drops in Jewish support for Bush on the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. From a high of 85 percent support a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Jewish support for Bush’s war on terrorism fell to 59 percent a year ago and to 41 percent this year.

On Iraq, Jewish support for the war dropped to 43 percent this year from 59 percent a year ago, before the war but after the administration had made clear that it was planning military action.

The decline in Jewish support for the president’s Iraq policy comes after months of allegations that the Bush administration’s justifications for the war were based on faulty — and possibly fabricated — intelligence.

Bush’s spokesman have acknowledged that some of its intelligence was faulty, but insist that the overall picture of a gathering threat in Iraq was accurate.

This week, CBS’ “60 Minutes” broadcast an interview in which Bush’s former treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, said Bush planned to oust Saddam Hussein from power before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The White House would not confirm or deny O’Neill’s allegations except to say that the success of the wars on terror and Iraq speaks for itself.

Democrats have accused the president of diverting billions of dollars to the Iraq war that would have been better spent combating terrorism elsewhere.

Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition said low approval for the president’s performance in Iraq would change as the administration scored more successes. He noted that polling was completed just before Saddam Hussein’s capture in December.

When it comes to anti-Semitism in Europe, the survey shows a sharp increase in concern about the phenomenon: Fifty-five percent of respondents said the problem was “very serious,” up from 41 percent a year ago.

More than twice as many respondents said anti-Semitism posed a greater threat to Jewish life in the United States than intermarriage — 68 percent versus 27 percent.

The apparent contradiction between the increase in Jewish support for Bush generally and the decline in support for his policies likely is the result of Bush’s stance toward the Jewish state. Bush pleased many Jews by describing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a “man of peace” while consistently snubbing Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, because of his ties to terrorism.

Optimism about U.S.-Israel relations remains steady. This year, 86 percent of respondents said relations were very or somewhat positive; last year, 90 percent of respondents said so.

But 37 percent of respondents said they are less optimistic about the possibility of Israel achieving peace with the Arab world now than they were a year ago; only 5 percent are more optimistic.

Support for Israel’s handling of its relations with the Palestinian Authority eroded somewhat, as 60 percent said they supported Israel’s handling of the situation, down from 67 percent last year.

Meanwhile, U.S. Jewish support for a Palestinian state rose slightly to 54 percent, from 49 percent last year.

Democrats are worried about positive Jewish perceptions of Bush’s Israel policies. Recently, top Democrats revealed to JTA that they formulated a plan some 18 months ago to solidify Jewish support for Democrats and demonstrate that Democrats are better for Israel than Bush.

Democrats said the poll was reassuring, despite the growth in support for Bush.

“It’s 2-1 for any Democrat, despite the fact that we’re in the middle of a very tough primary season,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a top Washington consultant to the party. “All this poll does is reinforce the notion that Jews vote Democratic.”

The figures showing Lieberman faring better than any other Democrat against Bush belie the claim that Jews are less likely to support a Jewish candidate because of concern that it would be bad for the Jews. It’s a claim Lieberman has taken pains to refute when campaigning among Jews.

Still, anti-Semitism in the United States remains a concern. Respondents who said it was a very serious problem rose to 37 percent, from 29 percent last year. Respondents describing anti-Semitism as very serious on college campuses rose to 28 percent, from 23 percent last year.

Respondents also identified Muslims as the most anti-Semitic group, with 55 percent saying “most or many” Muslims are anti-Semitic. Those figures were consistent with 2002 but showed a reversal from 2001, when only 44 percent of respondents said most or many Muslims were anti-Semitic.

After Muslims, the group perceived as most anti-Semitic was the religious right, with 41 percent saying “most or many” were anti-Semites.

Consistent with prior surveys, the 2003 survey also showed Jews staking out positions opposite the president on domestic issues. About 73 percent said they opposed using taxpayer money to fund religious institutions or religious schools.

But Jews show solid support — 66 percent — for keeping the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. The question appeared for the first time in the survey, after a California appeals court ruled against the use of the phrase. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear the case in March.

The Democrats’ alignment with Jews on domestic issues is one way they hope to maintain Jewish community support. The AJCommittee’s survey bolsters the potential effectiveness of that strategy.

Other findings in the survey showing little change from 2002:

74 percent said they felt very close or fairly close to the Jewish state;

81 percent said they agree that the Arabs’ goal is Israel’s destruction, not return of the territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War;

15 percent support increased immigration to the United States, 43 percent said it should remain steady and 41 percent support a decrease; and

54 percent said being Jewish is very important and 34 percent said it is fairly important. Half of the respondents said they were affiliated with a synagogue, and half were not.

Recommended from JTA