President Obama's popularity among Jewish voters has declined at… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)
Was the Democratic defeat in last week's New York special congressional election a sign that President Obama has a problem specifically among Jewish voters?
Probably not, according to new polling data from the Gallup organization.
Many political commentators have asserted that the Republican victory in New York's 9th Congressional District vacated by Democrat Anthony Weiner was a sign that Obama's position on Israel had weakened his support among Jews, a longtime Democratic constituency.
As evidence, they note that the district, which includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn, is heavily Jewish and that Democratic former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and other supporters of the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, publicly had declared the election a chance for voters to send Obama a message on his Middle East policies.
And there is no question but that Obama's support among Jews is lower than it was on election night 2008. But the real question, regarding Jews or any other subgroup of the electorate, is whether the dropoff has been unique to that group or part of a larger trend – an example of a sinking tide lowering all boats.
On that score, the latest Gallup figures are strong evidence: Obama's support among Jews has dropped at roughly the same rate as his support among the population as a whole.
Over his presidency so far, Obama's support among Jews has run about 14 percentage points higher than his support among the population at large, with some fluctuations largely due to the relatively small number of Jews in any given polling sample, Gallup reports. The gap in the most recent tally is 13 points.
A similar point can be made about Latinos – another group whose declining support for Obama is sometimes attributed to group-specific issues, in this case the failure to bring about comprehensive changes in the nation's immigration policies.
Again, as with Jews, the polling data show something different – declining support that closely parallels the decline among non-Latino white voters.
With Obama's support having dropped at roughly the same rate among multiple subgroups – African Americans being the one great exception – the logical conclusion is that his problem is not any individual issue, such as Israel or immigration, but rather the overall problem facing the nation.
As Democratic strategist James Carville said 20 years ago, "it's the economy, stupid."