Politico’s Ben Smith, writing the latest story dissecting the absence of a story about Obama and Jewish voters, shows that Gallup polling detects no statistically significant movement among Jewish voters since Obama’s Israel speech in May. But Smith then goes on to dismiss the Gallup poll:
I didn’t wind up citing any data in the story for the same reason that Gallup can’t draw conclusions from the drop it sees in its polling: There aren’t any large enough samples of American Jews out there to talk reliably about relatively small shifts.
No. That is not true.
What Gallup’s report shows is:
A. There HASN’T BEEN any drop in Obama’s approval among Jews that is outside the poll’s margin of error (+/-6 points). If Smith wants to cease reporting any poll with a MoE of +/-6 points or greater, fine. But he’ll need to be clear that’s what he’s doing, and be consistent in his policy.
B. Regarding the small sample, what Gallup said was that there wasn’t a large enough sample in the daily tracking poll to detect “whether the speech had an immediate impact on the views of Jewish Americans toward the president nationally.” [emphasis added]. Thus, within those couple of days the speech may have had an impact on Obama’s standing among Jewish Americans–or it may not have–but the samples for those few days are too small to support a good inference. But Gallup’s current results from a larger sample show no evidence that Obama’s Israel speech has hurt him with Jewish voters. In what was probably an unintended negative caricature of the extreme Politico ethos, it appears Smith isn’t interested in whether the Gallup numbers give an indication of whether Obama will be able to rely on Jewish American voters to win the election. Instead, Smith’s assessment of the data is limited to whether it can indicate whether Obama “won” a particular day 18 months before the election.
C. The evidence from Gallup shows that Obama’s job approval among Jewish voters has not changed relative to the rest of the population. “The 14-percentage-point difference in the two groups’ approval ratings in June — 60% among U.S. Jews vs. 46% among all U.S. adults — is identical to the average gap seen over the past two and a half years.”
Despite all this, look at Smith’s conclusion:
And perhaps the clearest sign that there’s something afoot: A new push from the Obama campaign to win back pro-Israel Jewish support.
Win back? No, it’s not an effort to “win back pro-Israel Jewish support,” because it’s unchanged!
Now, it may be that Obama has lost support among some donors over his May speech on Israel. He may not have. And even if he has, do we know he hasn’t made up the financial support from other constituencies? And the Greg Sargent piece Smith quotes isn’t a clear sign “that there’s something afoot.” It’s a clear sign that the Obama campaign doesn’t want conservative claims that Obama is trying to screw over Israel start to get traction. The Swift Boat bullshit in 2004 wasn’t damaging because of something that Kerry announced, or because it was true or immediately believed. It was damaging because it grew. Pointing to a campaign trying to prevent a damaging political belief from gaining hold in the public’s mind and saying that’s proof that the damaging political belief already has hold in the public’s mind is like saying inoculating children for measles is a clear sign that many children already have measles.
Polling data shows Smith is just plain wrong in his claims that Obama has a problem with Jewish voters over his position on Israel. There’s been little reporting to support the belief that Obama’s policies toward Israel is losing him donors. But that doesn’t mean Smith hasn’t heard some Jewish donors complain about Obama’s position on Israel. But is it because they’re prompted but it’s not something they’d generally offer up if not directly asked? And is it possible that it’s an excuse for not having the money to give this time, or the desire to do the often tough work of asking people to give some of their money to a political candidate? And–to me, the most likely explanation for what Smith’s been told–is it possible that there are some Jewish Democratic donors and bundlers–who are disproportionately based on the East Coast and disproportionately involved in the financial sector–who are using Israel as an excuse for not helping him when in fact they’re unhappy with Obama for trying to more tightly regulate their financial activities, to maybe raise their taxes, and because he’s offered up the occasional mild rebuke of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street?
It’s far from a new story that there are some rich bankers and financiers, even including some Democrats, who are upset with the Obama administration because he was supposedly mean to them. It may be true that a few of those same rich bankers and financiers happen to be Jewish and either on their own or in response to a question invoke Israel when complaining about Obama. But that doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth, and it doesn’t that it’s responsible journalism to accept their claims credulously, especially when the data says otherwise.