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Why Republican efforts to corral Jewish vote may come up short

As expected, Republican presidential candidates courting the Jewish vote made mention Wednesday of Israel and Iran, but experts say it's unrealistic to expect they'll make major inroads on Jewish support for Obama.

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In August, Obama brought in Jewish Democratic activist Ira Forman to reach out to the Jewish community. Obama faced outrage last May over a speech he gave proposing that new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations use the 1967 borders as their starting point. And in September, the upset victory of a Republican in a heavily Jewish congressional district in New York – the seat formerly held by Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner – was seen as a rebuke of Obama.

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But the fact that Obama’s declining support among Jewish voters tracks his overall decline in job approval “calls into question attempts to link a decline in Obama’s approval among Jews to his statements or policies on matters important to Jewish policymakers and lobbyists,” Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport wrote in September.

Experts on the Jewish vote question other assumptions. In a recent column in the Jewish-focused magazine Moment, Nathan Guttman cites five “myths about the Jewish vote.”

One: Polling Jewish voters can predict how Jews will vote.

Mr. Guttman, the Washington bureau chief of the Jewish-American newspaper The Forward, says that getting a good sample of that geographically diverse 2 percent “is a nightmare.”

Two: Jews are becoming increasingly Republican.

It’s true, Guttman says, that Republicans are making small, steady strides into the Jewish community, citing the growing influence of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“But take a look at the past three decades of exit polls, which are more reliable than pre-election polls, and the numbers are clear: Jews vote overwhelmingly Democratic,” he writes.

Three: Jews can tip a swing state.

The vast majority of Jews vote in states that are reliably Democratic – New York and California. He lists two exceptions, albeit crucial ones: Florida and Ohio.

Four: Jewish money bankrolls election campaigns.

Guttman gives this one a “maybe.” He acknowledges plenty of “Cohens and Goldmans” on campaign disclosure lists, but then suggests that under newly relaxed campaign finance rules, “the Jewish proportion of overall donations is expected to decline.”

Five: Israel is a deciding factor for Jewish voters.

“Not true,” Guttman writes. “Poll after poll, survey after survey, show that Jewish Americans love Israel and want their elected officials to support Israel, but don’t view this issue as decisive. Topping the Jewish voter’s priority list are economic and social issues. Israel is somewhere in the middle.”

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