President Obama and Republicans have repeatedly clashed over policy towards Israel, incited most recently by comments from the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, who argued that some anti-Semitism was rooted in territorial tensions between Israel and its neighbors. On Wednesday, Republican presidential hopefuls looked to court Jewish supporters at a forum held by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
The entire hubbub raises a critical question: How important is Israel as a voting issue?
In short, not very. Domestic concerns are reigning supreme in 2012 and Jewish voters -- who may be naturally more concerned about the state of Israel -- make up a very small portion of the electorate, even in key swing states. But the low-interest issue could help clarify choices for Republicans, who see Israel relations as a higher national priority.
More than eight in 10 Americans cited domestic issues as their top voting issue in 2012 in a November Washington Post-ABC News poll, while less than two percent volunteered international issues. Even among international issues, Israel takes a back seat. None of the 1,004 adults interviewed for the survey mentioned Israel as the most important issue in their vote.
Jewish voters made up 2 percent of voters in 2008, similar to their representation in the public overall, with their numbers peaking at 4 percent in Florida, a perennial swing state often decided by a few percentage points. Nationally, Obama won Jewish voters by a nearly 4 to 1 margin over Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), according to exit polls.
But Obama currently faces the lowest ratings of his presidency among Jews. In the latest Gallup data provided to the Washington Post, 51 percent of Jews approved of the way the president is handling his job and 42 percent disapproved. While Obama continues to score higher among Jews than the public overall, the sizable well of disapproval among a core Democratic group provides an opportunity for Republicans in 2012.