This can’t be right. Barack Obama says he knows more about Judaism than any other President before him, despite all evidence to the contrary. However, The Hill reports that a recent Gallup survey shows a double-digit erosion in his support among Jewish voters, a potential red flag for his re-election prospects:
President Obama’s support has dropped by double digits among Jewish voters from 2008, but he still earns more than double the support of challenger Mitt Romney among American Jews, according to a new survey from Gallup.
The president is the choice of 64 percent of Jewish registered voters, versus 29 percent for Romney. But that equates to a 10-point drop for Obama among Jewish voters from November 2008, and a six-point pick up for Republicans. And while some of that can be explained by Obama’s slipping numbers across all demographics, the rate at which Jewish voters are defecting from the Obama campaign — and signaling support for Romney — exceeds national averages.
Romney has put considerable pressure on Obama for the Jewish vote:
Romney has made a major play for Jewish voters this cycle, criticizing the president’s stance on Israel and playing up his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The men have known each other for nearly four decades, when they both worked at a Boston-area consulting firm together.
Still, Obama carries a 35-point lead among Jewish voters who could play an important role in November’s contest. Since April, 83 percent of Jewish voters surveyed by Gallup say they definitely will vote, exceeding the national average of 78 percent among all registered voters.
Some of this could be attributed to Obama’s demonstrations of hostility towards Netanyahu (and perhaps Netanyahu’s responses to them), as well as a perception that Obama favors the Palestinians. Obama fumbled the American side of the negotiations early in his presidency by inexplicably making housing expansion in Jerusalem a make-or-break issue, a point that the Palestinians hadn’t made. Once done, though, the Palestinians couldn’t retreat from Obama’s position, and the change has made further negotiations impossible. Obama then made it worse the next year by demanding a return to pre-1967 lines, a position Israel wants to reserve for direct and serious negotiations rather than a starting point.
The incompetence in which Obama has handled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might not be the only problem for Obama among Jewish voters. Many religious leaders in the Jewish community have joined Catholics and other Christians in opposing the HHS mandate for contraception and sterilization, especially in its application to religious schools, charities, and health-care providers. The Rabbinical Council of America, the largest organization of rabbis in the US, officially resolved itself against the HHS mandate a month ago and has been vocal about its opposition ever since. That was not entirely done out of ecumenical brotherhood (although that was certainly one of the motivations), but also because the HHS mandate will force Orthodox Jewish organizations to violate their own tenets of faith:
There are many cases in which the HHS regulation would coerce a Jewish employer into violating his conscience. Perhaps the most readily apparent problem from an Orthodox Jewish perspective is the regulation’s requirement that sterilization procedures be offered by employer-provided health insurance plans. (Jewish law usually prohibits sterilization.) The regulation also mandates that employer-provided plans provide their employees with a drug called Ella. Ella can be taken several days after conception and therefore cannot honestly be called a contraceptive, which by definition prevents conception. It is actually an abortifacient, a drug which causes an abortion. While abortion is a complicated topic in Jewish law, it has been generally prohibited by Jewish authorities from the most rational to the most mystical, from Maimonides (Code of Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9:4) to the Kabbalah’s most famous work, the Zohar (Exodus 3b). Even actual contraceptives are only allowed in certain circumstances. Some contraceptive methods are simply prohibited. In these circumstances the regulation would require an Orthodox Jewish employer to break the law, violate his conscience, or shut down his business. The government should not force this choice upon any American.
The regulation intrudes on religious liberties even in situations where the underlying drugs are religiously permitted. The circumstances in which Jewish law allows these drugs are complex and dictated by specific conditions. A mandate that requires an employer to distribute these drugs in every situation, without rabbinic guidance, intrudes on the relationship between rabbi and congregant. The Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment were intended to protect that very relationship from governmental interference. The Orthodox Jewish position involves nuance, and the administration’s refusal to grant religious waivers sends a clear message that nuance in this area is not welcome. Refusal to amend the regulation would send a clear message that these Orthodox beliefs are illegitimate and undeserving of basic constitutional protection.
This looks like a problem for Obama that crosses all lines of faith. In the latest one-week totals from Gallup’s tracking poll on presidential approval, approval among those who attend religious services on a weekly basis has dropped to 36%, the lowest it has been since January — before the announcement of the HHS mandate.
Obama will still win the Jewish vote, and probably handily. However, Romney has already narrowed the gap, and if Obama doesn’t change direction on the HHS mandate and/or repair his approach to Israel, he’s not going to get the kind of enthusiasm and activism he needs to overcome his deficits in other demographic categories, or win wide victory he needs to win the overall election.
Update: Jeff Dunetz says this will matter in critical states like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — but not nearly as much as the damage Obama has done to his standing among Catholics.