NEW POLL: Attacks on Pro-Israel Congresswoman Backfire

October 28, 2010

Jewish voters continue to overwhelmingly support Jan Schakowsky

WASHINGTON — In a congressional race closely watched for attempts to make Israel a wedge issue, a new poll in Representative Jan Schakowsky’s district released today shows attacks on the congresswoman’s pro-Israel credentials have not only failed, but actually backfired.

By a 65-23 margin, Congresswoman Schakowsky leads her Republican opponent Joel Pollak among Jews in Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District.  This tracks her support with Jews in the 2008 Congressional race despite the dramatic shift in the political environment facing Democrats in this midterm election and the extra $500,000 that Pollak has spent in this campaign, as compared to Schakowsky’s 2008 opponent.  In fact, Pollak’s Israel-related attacks made the 35 percent of Jews who heard the criticism more likely to vote for Schakowsky than Pollak.

The poll, conducted by Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications, surveyed 400 Jewish voters in Schakowsky’s district from October 18-24. The poll was sponsored by J Street, the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.

Pollak has made Israel-related attacks a centerpiece of his campaign, bringing in high profile right-wing Israel activists including Daniel Pipes, Jennifer Rubin, and Alan Dershowitz to headline his fundraisers. The strategy confounded many political watchers given Representative Schakowsky’s 12-year track record championing Israel’s cause in Congress. She has sponsored and co-sponsored legislation to advance Israel’s military advantage in the region and has worked to sustain US leadership to facilitate a negotiated two-state resolution as the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic homeland.

The Chicago Sun-Times wrote in its October 1, 2010 endorsement of Representative Schakowsky: “Where Pollak, a legal researcher and writer, completely runs afoul of the truth, however, is in his effort to portray Schakowsky as insufficiently pro-Israel. What nonsense… She has been an unwavering friend of Israel, with an overwhelmingly strong pro-Israel voting record.”

“This poll clearly demonstrates that Jewish voters will stand behind candidates who stand up for the pro-Israel, pro-peace policies, which are supported by the vast majority of American Jews,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s founder and president.

The flaws in Pollak’s strategy are exposed by statistical evidence that Jews are not single-issue voters, and, moreover, Israel is far from the top of their list of decisive issues. Only 14 percent of Jews in the district consider Israel one of their top two priorities in deciding how to vote, ranking the economy (53 percent), healthcare (24 percent) and education (21 percent) above it. This small number of Jews who prioritize Israel is slightly higher than the national average, due to the district’s larger population of Orthodox Jews, who are more politically conservative, more hawkish and more focused on Israel than reform, conservative, and unaffiliated Jews.

The poll also reveals a gap between the conventional wisdom about Mark Kirk’s standing with Jewish voters and Mark Kirk’s actual standing with Jewish voters.  Among Jews in Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District – which neighbors Kirk’s own Tenth Congressional District – Kirk trails Alexi Giannoulias 56-28 in the highly contested Illinois Senate race. Despite the fact that Kirk has staked his reputation in the Jewish community on a hawkish legislative record of support for Israel, he is viewed unfavorably by 57 percent of Jews in the district, with only 20 percent viewing him favorably. By comparison, Giannoulias enjoys a 41 percent favorable rating, with only 31 percent viewing him unfavorably.

Despite aggressive attacks on President Obama’s Mideast policies by Pollak and national organizations attempting to whip up anti-Obama fervor, 67 percent of Jews in the district say they approve of the way that Obama is handling his job as President.  When asked about whether they agree with Obama’s handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict, nearly 6-in-10 Jewish voters say they agree with his policies (32 percent agree and like the way he is executing the policies and 27 percent agree but don’t like the way he is executing the policies; only 29 percent disagree with the President’s policies).

Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications designed the questionnaire for this survey of 400 Jewish registered voters in Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District, conducted October 18-24, 2010. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percent.  The survey was 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.  No phone calls were made during the Jewish Sabbath.

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.

View the full poll results and analysis here.