Ed Koch Backs Obama Re-Election As Polls Show Jewish Support Declining

By Patrick Goodenough | September 28, 2011 | 5:09 AM EDT

President Obama shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the U.N. in New York on Wednesday, Sept., 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) – Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch says President Obama’s recent actions, including his speech at the U.N. General Assembly last week, have satisfied him that the president is a firm supporter of Israel. As a result, the Jewish Democrat says he will now back Obama’s re-election bid.

Koch’s remarks Tuesday in an email to supporters came two weeks after he was credited for contributing to a Republican special election victory in a historically Democratic New York congressional district by endorsing GOP candidate Bob Turner. The veteran Democrat said he was doing so in a bid to “cause President Obama to change his hostile position on the State of Israel and to re-establish the special relationship presidents before him had supported.”

Now, Citing Obama’s words of support for Israel in his U.N. address, his recent intervention with Egypt’s military authorities over the overrunning of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, and reports that the administration supplied Israel with bunker buster bombs in 2009, Koch wrote that he was “now on board the Obama Reelection Express.”

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Jewish Democrat, is backing President Obama's re-election amid polls showing that American Jews’ support for Obama has declined over his handling of relations with Israel and the economy. (AP Photo)

Koch’s change of heart came as a new poll commissioned by the non-partisan American Jewish Committee found that American Jews’ support for Obama has declined over his handling of relations with Israel and the economy.

“For the first time during Obama’s presidency, disapproval among Jewish voters exceeded approval of his performance,” AJC reported in its annual survey of U.S. Jewish opinion. “Jewish approval of Obama’s handling of his job as president declined to 45 percent, with another 48 percent disapproving.”

The AJC’s last poll, one year ago, found 51 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval for the president’s performance.

On the question of U.S.-Israel ties, the Obama administration’s handling of the relationship won the support of 40 percent of respondents in the new poll, while 53 percent disapproved. On the same question in an equivalent poll two years ago, the administration received 54 percent approval, and 32 percent disapproval.

Support for Obama’s handling of the economy dropped to 37 percent, from 45 percent one year ago; disapproval rose to 60 percent, up from 51 percent last year.

In potential matchups between Obama and three Republican 2012 presidential hopefuls, Obama would get 50 percent of the Jewish vote to Mitt Romney’s 32 percent; 55 percent to Rick Perry’s 25 percent; and 59 percent to Michele Bachmann’s 19 percent. Between 16 and 18 percent of respondents said they would vote for neither Obama nor the GOP candidate named.

Although Obama would therefore receive a significantly higher vote than Romney, Perry or Bachmann – the only three GOP candidates cited in the AJC poll – those results are still a marked drop from his performance in 2008, when national exit polls indicated that Obama won about 77 percent of the Jewish vote to Sen. John McCain’s 22 percent.

AJC also recorded a gradual decline in the number of Jewish voters identifying themselves as Democrats – 45 percent this year, down from 53 percent in the fall of 2009. Although the proportion of those identifying themselves as Republicans – 16 percent – has not risen, self-identified independents now stand at 38 percent, up eight points since 2009.

‘A serious problem among Jewish voters’

Another recent poll, released by Gallup on Sept. 16, found 54 percent job approval for Obama from Jewish Americans – the lowest in a steady decline in monthly averages from an 83 percent high in January 2009 (Gallup also recorded 54 percent in Nov. 2010).

The poll shows that the job approval rating erosion among Jews mirrors the decline among American adults overall.

Partisan Jewish organizations continue to tussle over what the recent trends and political developments mean.

Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) executive director Matt Brooks said the AJC poll reinforced the message that came out of Turner’s victory in the New York 9th congressional district election a fortnight ago.

“In fact, the approval numbers that President Obama got in this poll put him at near-Jimmy Carter levels of disapproval among American Jews,” he said in a statement.

“These numbers show why Democrats are scrambling to shore up their support in the Jewish community,” Brooks said. “Despite the Democrats’ spin to the contrary, there can be no dispute now that President Obama has a serious problem among Jewish voters.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) was silent on the AJC poll, but maintains that the GOP presidential primary process is demonstrating that the Republican Party is out of touch with “Jewish values.”

In a statement responding to the GOP Fox News/Google debate in Florida on Thursday, NJDC president and CEO David Harris said the candidates had espoused “positions that are so out of step with the mainstream of American Jewry that they firmly reminded the American Jewish community why it votes so reliably Democratic.”

He cited views on health care reform, Social Security and “social issues,” and  accused some of the candidates of attacking “this pro-Israel President based purely on partisan politics.”

“The Republican primary process will help prove that the Democratic Party remains the one natural political home for American Jews,” Harris concluded.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow