The U.S. senator from Illinois scored 57 percent, compared to 30 percent of respondents who said they would vote for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). That’s consistent with two other major polls taken since May.
If Obama’s figure holds, he would finish about 15 points behind the 75 percent of the Jewish vote that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won in 2004, according to exit polls.
“He seems to have reached a plateau,” said David Singer, the AJC’s research director. He noted that Jews among the party faithful are strongly supportive of their respective candidates, with 81 percent of Jewish Democrats backing Obama and 84 percent of Jewish Republicans backing McCain.
“In the past, Jewish independents usually in their voting behavior tended to go Democratic by this point in the campaign,” Singer said. “It’s this group that seems to be hesitating.”
The AJC survey found an even split among Jewish independents for McCain and Obama — with 20 percent still undecided.
Part of the explanation is McCain’s popularity among Jews relative to President Bush, who garnered only 24 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004 even after four years of what was widely seen as consistently strong support for Israel. McCain’s appeal combines similar support for Israel with a reputation as a moderate — one that Jewish Democrats say is no longer deserved after McCain picked a staunch religious conservative, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as his running mate.
A similar poll conducted by the AJC four years ago, in September 2004, showed Kerry at 69 percent and Bush at 24 percent. Kerry ultimately persuaded the undecideds to vote for him six weeks later.
Whether Obama can do the same in the time remaining before the election with twice as many undecideds up for grabs this time around is a worrying question for Democrats. They say that a Republican campaign depicting Obama as overly sympathetic to Palestinians and as insufficiently confrontational with Iran, as well as an Internet-based campaign falsely depicting Obama as a secret Muslim, has hurt support for the Democrat among Jews.