Jewish Voters Buck National Trends, Election Night Polls Find

November 3, 2010

First-Ever Election Night Polls of Jewish Voters

Bucking National Trend, Jewish Support Deep for Democratic Candidates, Obama, Middle East Peace Push

Right-Wing Attacks over Israel Fail to Move Jewish Vote in Pennsylvania, Chicago or Nationally

In Tough Climate, 71 Percent of PA Jews Vote Sestak; Nationally, 66 Percent Jews Vote Democratic

WASHINGTON – The first-ever election night poll of American Jewish voters finds the community bucking national trends and overwhelmingly supporting Democratic candidates and President Obama, as well as a bold US-led push for Middle East peace.

Despite millions of dollars worth of partisan and neo-conservative attempts to turn Israel into a wedge issue this election cycle, the attacks failed to change the way American Jews voted. The poll finds that American Jews, like the rest of the electorate, cast their votes with the economy and other bread and butter issues in mind.

Nationally, only 7 percent of American Jews identified Israel as decisive in how they vote, ranking it eighth behind the economy (62 percent), healthcare (31 percent) and the deficit (18 percent), among other issues. In Pennsylvania, only 8 percent of Jews consider Israel one of their top two priorities in deciding how to vote. Comparatively, 14 percent of Jews in Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District, which includes a larger Orthodox population than average, consider Israel one of their top two priorities.

The polls, conducted by Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications, surveyed 1000 Jewish voters across the country, as well as 600 Jewish voters in Pennsylvania on the evening of November 2nd. A separate poll, conducted before the election from October 20-24, surveyed 400 voters in Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District. The polls were sponsored by J Street, the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.

“American Jewish voters remain strongly supportive of efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict peacefully and diplomatically. Despite efforts by some outside groups and candidates to use Israel to drive a partisan wedge in the Jewish community, our community remains overwhelmingly supportive of President Obama and of the direction of his policy in the Middle East,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and President of J Street. “Right-wing appeals to Jewish voters on Israel failed in the past, have failed this year, and will continue to fail to move voters in the future.”

In a particularly difficult electoral climate for incumbents, 66 percent of American Jews voted for the Democratic candidate for Congress in their district.

In Pennsylvania, where Senate candidate Joe Sestak faced a barrage of Israel-related attacks from groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition, 71 percent of Jewish voters supported Sestak. Despite heavy investment by ECI and the RJC, the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvania’s Jews – 86 percent – had not heard about the right-wing attacks (70 percent) or said they made no difference even if they were aware (16 percent).

In Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District, where Republican challenger Joel Pollak made Israel-related attacks a centerpiece of his campaign, Rep. Jan Schakowsky handily won reelection. A poll conducted before the election showed Schakowsky leading her opponent 65-23 among the district’s Jewish voters. Pollak’s attacks not only failed to resonate among Jewish voters, but actually backfired on him, with 35 percent of Jews who heard the criticism more likely to vote for Schakowsky.

Despite attacks centered on President Obama’s Israel policies, 60 percent of Jews across the country say they approve the way the President is handling his job and 53 percent say that they approve the way he is handling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

83 percent of American Jews support an active US role in resolving the Arab-Israel conflict, consistent with previous polls on this subject. Support remains very strong when voters are asked if they would still support active US leadership if it meant “publicly stating its disagreements with” (71 percent support) or “exerting pressure” on (65 percent support) the Israelis and Arabs to resolve the conflict.

Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications designed the questionnaires for these surveys. The survey of 400 Jewish registered voters in Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District was conducted October 18-24, 2010, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percent. No phone calls were made during the Jewish Sabbath. The survey of 600 Jews who voted in the 2010 Pennsylvania general election was conducted on November 2, 2010, and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. Both of these surveys were conducted by telephone, calling a random sample of registered voters with Jewish names and people who self-identify as Jewish in consumer data that has been appended to the voter file. Respondents were re-screened at the beginning of the survey when they were first asked for their religion and then, if they did not identify themselves as Jewish by religion, they were asked again if they considered themselves Jewish.

The national survey of 1,000 Jewish voters was conducted on November 2, 2010 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. Gerstein | Agne contracted the research company Mountain West Research Center to administer the survey by email invitation to its web-based panel which is regularly updated and consists of a sample of nearly 900,000 Americans. This panel was supplemented by a randomly selected representative sample of registered voters with Jewish names and with people who self-identify as Jewish in consumer data that has been appended to the voter file. Respondents were re-screened at the beginning of the survey to ensure that they were Jewish and that they had voted in the November 2, 2010 election.

Gerstein | Agne is a Washington-based strategic research firm that conducts public opinion research for non-profit organizations, charities, civic institutions, candidates for elected office, and Fortune 500 companies. Jim Gerstein has conducted extensive public opinion research with American Jews and was involved in the Clinton Administration’s outreach to the Jewish community. He has also conducted public opinion research in Israel, and was a senior member of the American team that oversaw the polling, focus groups, and paid media efforts for Ehud Barak’s 1999 campaign for Prime Minister.