Obama's "Jewish Problem"

The New York Times has a problematic article on Page One today that suggests some Jewish voters won’t back Obama in part because they’re a bunch of racists. Here’s the problem: The article focuses largely on people in their eighties living in retirement villages in Florida, a state where Jews make up a whopping 5 percent of all voters.

In the article, some of these older Jews freely share their concerns about Obama, saying they worry about his support for Israel and position on Iran. But then the article turns to their “anxieties” about race and why some of them simply won’t vote for an African-American.

This, of course, is now gathering steam in the blogosphere as evidence Obama has a race-based “Jewish Problem” because of a few anecdotes from some old folks in the NYT.

In fact, the real problem is those anecdotes don’t reflect reality.

In all primaries to date, including Florida, Obama has done better among Jewish voters—and among Jewish seniors--than non-Jewish whites.

While the racial views of people over 80 are interesting, they’re also not particularly surprising—or unique to Jews. Talk to any group of people over 80, and you’ll probably find less enlightened views on race. The polling reflects it. Go talk to some Italian-Americans who’ve moved down to Florida for retirement. Or Irish-Americans. Go ask a group of retirees in Ohio or Pennsylvania.

Gary Langer, ABC’s polling director extraordinaire, says polling makes clear seniors across the board are less likely to vote for an African-American as president. When asked whether they would be comfortable or uncomfortable voting for an African-American as president, 12 percent of all voters polled said they’d be uncomfortable. Among seniors, 20 percent said they’d be uncomfortable.

It seems to me that Jews--more than any identifiable demographic group other than African-Americans--would turn out to support Barack Obama in November. Look at the data from the Democratic primaries. Overall, 43 percent of Jewish voters cast ballots for Obama, compared with 39 percent of non-Jewish whites. And focusing older voters, the margin is even greater: 35 percent of Jewish seniors voted for Obama, compared with 29 percent of non-Jewish whites.

That makes it particularly hard to understand casting Jews as atypically racist, based on anecdotal information from the Octogenarian demographic.

Indeed, Obama’s bigger problem in Florida has to do with the large number of seniors who live there of all ethnicities. As Langer points out, polls show seniors (and working-class voters) are much less receptive to themes of change, which of course has been a cornerstone of Obama’s campaign.

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