Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Israel doesn't swing Jewish voters

By Amitai Etzioni, Special to CNN
November 4, 2012 -- Updated 1207 GMT (2007 HKT)
A banner touts Mitt Romney's support for Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 20.
A banner touts Mitt Romney's support for Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 20.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mitt Romney is trying to outdo President Obama in his support for Israel, says Amitai Etzioni
  • It's a myth that the Jewish vote goes to whoever supports Israel more fervently, Etzioni says
  • Only 4% of American Jews cite Israel as their most important voting issue, he says
  • And 51% of those registered to vote cited the economy as the most important issue, he says

Editor's note: Amitai Etzioni, professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, is the author of "Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World."

(CNN) -- Mitt Romney is trying to cut into the considerable lead President Obama had among Jewish voters by showing that he is even more of a supporter of Israel than his rival.

After suggesting the Obama administration threw Israel "under the bus," Romney made an even stronger warning to Iran not to go nuclear, and pledged to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Romney is hardly the only one who believes that the Jewish vote swings to the candidate in presidential elections who is the most fervent supporter of Israel. The same position was given voice in a 2007 book by two highly regarded political scientists, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which suggests that Jews have undue influence over U.S. foreign policy by making campaign contributions, pressuring members of Congress, and by casting their votes to support Israel.

Amitai Etzioni
Amitai Etzioni

A controversy erupted in 2011-12 concerning "Israel Firsters," a term referring to American Jews who are said to promote Israeli policies to the point where they "put the interests of the Israeli right above everything else," as one writer put it.

A recent survey shows that Romney will be disappointed. If Jewish votes follow what this survey reveals, Obama will gain somewhat less support from Jews this year than he gained in 2008 -- but the same will be true for other groups of voters, including African-Americans. And most Jews who will change the party they vote for will not "swing" because of his position on Israel.

Opinion: Are voters still picking leader of free world?

For the vast majority of Jews, Israel ranks surprisingly low in their considerations as voters. Early in 2012, the Public Religion Research Institute found that among self-identified Jewish adults, 51% of those registered to vote cited the economy as the most important issue driving their voting decision. Fifteen percent cited the growing gap between the rich and the poor, while 10% cited health care and 7% the deficit. Only 4% cited Israel as the most important issue to their vote.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



As David Harris, Executive Director of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee, put it, "Jews are multi-issue voters. The notion they are single-issue voters is simply wrong."

Despite criticism of Obama's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for instance by three Brookings Institution scholars in the book Bending History, approximately 60% of Jewish voters in the Public Religion Research Institute survey reported a very favorable or mostly favorable view of Obama and said that they approve of the way he is doing his job.

The Jewish Vote In Florida
Jewish voters may decide winner in Fla.
Can Israelis sway U.S. election?
Political power of Netanyahu
Israel issue might alter Jewish votes

On the specific issue of how Obama is handling the Arab-Israeli conflict, the survey found Jewish voters to be divided: 20% of the Jews surveyed said that they agree with the president's policies and his execution of them, while 15% reported that they agree with his policies but not his execution of them. Twenty-eight percent reported that they disagree with his policies, while 36% said that they are not sure of their opinion of how Obama is handling the conflict. Hardly a bloc vote.

Indeed, evidence shows that Jews tend to vote as a group no more than -- and often less than -- several other key groups.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2011 found that 65% of the Jews polled reported leaning Democratic and 29% reported leaning Republican. The same poll found white evangelicals reporting a 70-24 split in favor of Republicans. Eighty-eight percent of black Protestants reported leaning Democratic, with 6% leaning Republican. Mormons leaned Republican by an 80-17% margin and atheists leaned Democratic by a 71-21% margin. A Gallup poll conducted in April also showed 70% of Latino Catholics favoring Obama, with 20% supporting Romney, and 10% remaining undecided.

Opinion: Both parties have a huge race problem

All this is not to question that Jews care about Israel -- although many liberal Jews are very critical of its policies, and there are many liberal Jews -- just as Irish, Polish, Armenian and other Americans care about the nation they or their forefathers are from and to which they feel an ethnic affinity.

However, to jump from noting such sentiments to the conclusion that therefore members of these groups will put these concerns above their commitment to America or allow these concerns to determine their vote must be supported by data. At least in the case of the Jewish vote, data show the opposite is the case. Israel is a decisive factor in shaping the vote of only 4 out of 100 Jewish voters. Romney's campaign team better keep its Champagne bottles corked.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amitai Etzioni.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2049 GMT (0449 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT