Obama Is Good for the Jews

New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote that Obama is losing Jewish support, but Eric Alterman says he’s wrong and poll numbers show that on the whole they are some of his strongest supporters.

08.28.10 6:59 PM ET

Although he “generally ignores these types of responses,” Charles M. Blow replied to my critique of his column on whether President Obama was “good for the Jews” on his New York Times weblog. In it, he chose to double down on his original claim that Barack Obama has a special problem with the Chosen People. Alas, his return trip to Good Jew shul went no better than his first.

In my original critique of his first column, I made a number of arguments designed to demonstrate that by picking a single statistic from a single poll, Blow had ignored a whole lot of context about the behavior of Jews over a period of many decades and was painting an unsupportable picture of phony Jewish animus toward the president. Blow is returning to the scene of his original crime to argue that by doing the analysis I did not do, he found that his case was actually stronger than he originally argued. This is a case, however, what my old bubbe, may she rest in peace, would call “a foiler tut in tsveyen.” Alas, this time it’s worse.

Blow’s case is built on bubkes. Just about everything he claims in his column is either false, misleading, or both.

Going back to the pollsters at the Pew Research Center, who did some more breakdown for him, Blow says he found:

Obama’s approval rating among Jews in 2010 averaged 58 percent.

This percentage was the lowest of all those representing his enthusiastic supporter groups except one, the religious unaffiliated.

The percentage change in Obama’s approval rating from 2009 to 2010 among Jews was greater than any of the other enthusiastic supporter groups, greater than Democrats and liberals in general and greater than the nation overall (or the goyim, if you prefer.)

In the first place, this is not a question that this particular survey should be used to address. The Pew poll was not, as was the J Street poll I quoted, a poll of Jews. Rather it was a nationwide poll that happened to include a few Jews. How many you ask? 64 to be exact. This is barely a quarter of the number that most pollsters say are necessary for a reliable result, particularly when compared with one featuring 803 Jews, like J Street’s, which was a repeat of a previous poll done a year earlier. (No sensible reader of polls would rely on a single poll for anything, as it happens. It’s the trends that matter.) And if you don’t happen to like J Street and don’t trust their data, well, that’s not causing me any tsuris either. As the indefatigable Ron Kampeas noted in his comments on this kerfuffle, the Gallup Organization published an analysis of its aggregate for 2010, based on its daily polling for the year. They found:

Eric Alterman: Obama Is Good for the Jews"Obama with 61 percent job approval among Jews, 13 points above the national average of 48 percent; and that's a 4 percent swing upward from April, when the difference was just 9 percent, based on a comparison between an American Jewish Committee poll and overall approval per Gallup (57 among Jews, 48 general).

Not only that, but Gallup's aggregate polling shows that gap—13 to 14 percent—has tracked the same since he was elected. It was 14 percent in the first half of 2009 (77 Jews, 63 general), 13 percent in the second half (66 Jews and 53 general) and now stands at 13.

And not only that, but other groups in the Gallup roundup that trend more supportive for Obama than the general population have sustained consistent margins in comparison with general polling, with the exception of Muslims, where Obama consistently polls in the 80s. (The breakouts are different, it must be said: Whereas Blow asked for breakouts based on ethnicity and political affiliation, Gallup has breakouts based on religion, or non-affiliation with religion.)

And not only that, but Gallup's margin of error is minuscule. Its aggregate since January 2009 is 6,746 Jews, with a margin of error of less than 2 percent; that would mean its aggregate for the first half of this year is about a third of that—over 2,000 Jewish voters—with a margin of error of about 2 percent. Pew's for this year is 286 Jews, which has a margin of error of about 7 percent." (Gallup’s polling is based on 284 Jewish participants, by the way.)

Second, I have to say, I’m a little saddened to see the Pew people involving themselves in Blow’s misuse of their data. This too, is a bit of shande. When the Pew people argue (based on insufficient data, remember) that “the percentage change in Obama’s approval rating from 2009 to 2010 among Jews was greater than any of the other enthusiastic supporter groups, greater than Democrats and liberals in general,” they fail to clarify whether they are separating Jews out from “liberals” in general. I mean, vai-is-mer, if you take the liberals out of the Jews, what do you have left? Would you be surprised to learn that there are a few Jews who weren’t so crazy about Obama in the first place and a few more who are—like most Americans—a little less crazy about him than they were back in January 2009? Even if true, that would hardly be sufficient to justify all this meshuga-making on Blow’s (or anybody’s) part, particularly since we are now barely dealing in double digits when it comes to actual living, breathing Members of the Tribe. In fact, leaving aside the special case of African Americans, the drop in all top four groups in the poll is virtually identical, 9 to 11 percent, the difference of which is statistically insignificant. What’s more, if you study the Democracy Corps poll on Obama’s popularity and focus on groups that all began with a Jew-like approval rating for the guy at 69 percent in January 2009, you’ll find a slightly larger drop among single women, who are down to 56 percent, than Jews, who were at 58 percent. Does Blow think America’s single women are pissed off because Obama is too tough on Israeli settlements?

But there are so many holes in Blow’s arguments, it practically counts as what Bubbe would have called a “shvindel.” Blow assumes that Jews are angry with Obama on the basis of insufficient evidence. Next, he then jumps to the even less supportable conclusion that the reason for this alleged anger is Obama’s policy toward Israel and Palestine. But where, just for the sake of argument, is Blow’s evidence that Jews are single-issue voters? As Blow must know, one of the issues of greatest concern to American Jews right now is the increasing alienation of so many of them from the state of Israel. These people have plenty of reasons, fair or not, to be unhappy with Barack Obama (as I argued here) and they have nothing whatever to do with Israel. What’s more, if you look at the success of J Street, or read say The New York Review of Books, America’s most distinguished intellectual publication, you’ll find quite a few American Jews who find themselves far more in agreement with Obama’s position on settlements and East Jerusalem than with Israel’s hydra-headed right-wing government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, much less the mad bomber John Bolton, whom Blow quoted so prominently.

So to recap: Blow’s case is built on bubkes. Just about everything he claims in his column is either false, misleading, or both. Luckily for Blow, however, the High Holy Days are upon us and he has plenty of time to atone before being inscribed in the Book of Life. As for the president, with a steady approval rating among landsmen of more than 60 percent, he has no reason to be particularly verklempt about the Jews. Your problem is and remains with the goyim, Mr. President, Blow’s tsemishnich notwithstanding.

Eric Alterman is a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and a professor of journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author, most recently, of Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Important Ideals.