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Survey: American Jews Favor Obama Over McCain by Wide Margin

With the November 4 U.S. presidential election just days away, a recent national survey shows large proportions of American Jewish voters favoring Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama over his Republican rival, Senator John McCain. VOA's Mohamed Elshinnawi has details.

One of the most striking findings in the American Jewish Committee's annual opinion poll - a phone survey conducted in late September with one thousand American Jews - is that support for Obama is not higher than it is.

"Senator Obama has 57 percent of the Jewish vote, and Senator McCain has 30 percent, and there's a 13 percent undecided, so the undecided number is a little bit higher than what we'd expect at this stage of the campaign," says Kenneth Bandler, director of communications at the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee.

"Senator Obama getting only 57 percent, it's a bit lower than one would expect from the Jewish electorate at this stage of the campaign," Bandler says. "[Democratic] Senator [John] Kerry in 2004 at the same stage had 69 percent of the Jewish vote, and then he ended up with 76 percent."

Bandler says Obama could end up gaining more Jewish votes from undecided voters, but he notes that's a group also being actively courted by McCain.

The American Jewish Committee's phone survey makes it clear that Jews in the United States are a diverse population in terms of their political views and how they define their faith. Eight percent of the survey participants identified themselves as Orthodox Jews, 28 percent as Conservatives and 30 percent as Reform* Jews. Another 31 percent said they are just Jewish.

In terms of major political party affiliations, 56 percent of American Jews call themselves Democrats, 17 percent Republicans and 25 percent independents.

Bandler says he believes this year's Jewish vote will be crucial in deciding contests in so-called swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and especially Florida, where support for both candidates is fairly strong:

"Jewish voters account for as much as 5 percent of the total vote in Florida," he says. "So that's one of the reasons both candidates, McCain and Obama, have been spending so much time in Florida to court the Jewish vote, but also to court the Cuban-American vote. Those are critically important in Florida, and other ethnic groups there."

The survey also questioned American Jews' support for the two candidates' vice-presidential running mates.

"We found that 73 percent of the voters approve of Obama's selection of Senator Joe Biden as his running mate," Bandler says. "On the other hand, of Jews identified as Republicans, 37 percent approved of John McCain's selection of [Alaska] Governor [Sarah] Palin."

Bandler says the new survey also sheds some light on the issues that influence American Jewish voting patterns. It's a widely held view, for example, that American Jews typically vote for the presidential candidate who shows the deepest commitment to the security of Israel. Indeed, 29 percent of the survey respondents said they feel close - and 38 percent felt fairly close - to the state of Israel. But Bandler notes that only 3 percent described Israel's security as the top issue in this presidential election.

"[Among] the issues of preference for what they would most like the candidates for president to be discussing, the top issues are the economy and then health care, and it's clear they're the two leading issues in the race for the White House," Bandler says. "And then the war in Iraq and the energy security issue - energy independence - was also at the top of the list."

Significant majorities of Jewish voters also expressed more confidence in Democrats than in Republicans to make the right decisions on these issues. And while, like most other Americans, they are still uncertain about how to solve the current economic and financial crisis, American Jews say they trust Democrats more than Republicans - 62 to 28 percent - to find a way to fix the mess.

* - Corrected 31 October 2008 - originally published as "Reformed"