WASHINGTON (JTA) – American Jews overwhelmingly disapprove of U.S. President Donald Trump in just about every area, scoring him lower than his predecessor even on topics like Israel, where Jewish approval of Barack Obama was relatively low, according to an American Jewish Committee (AJC) poll.
The survey also shows a sharp uptick in concerns about anti-Semitism in the United States, which may be a reflection of the increased influence of the “alt-right” since Trump’s election.
Of respondents in the poll posted Wednesday by the AJC, 77 per cent said they viewed Trump’s job performance unfavourably and 21 per cent said they viewed him favourably. Those are considerably worse numbers for the president than in the general population at around the same time, mid- to late August, when Gallup consistently showed Trump scoring favourable ratings in the high 30s and unfavourable marks in the high 50s.
Asked for specifics, respondents scored Trump negatively across the board: 73 to 27 unfavourable to favourable on national security; 69-30 on terrorism; 75-23 on U.S.-Russia relations; 71-25 on handling the relationship with NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance; 77-20 on race relations; 76-23 on immigration; and 68-26 on the Iran nuclear issue. He came out best on U.S.-Israel relations, though still unfavourable: 54-40.
That contrasted with Obama, who scored a dead heat on the U.S.-Israel relations the last time it was asked in this poll, two years ago: 49 per cent disapproving and 48 approving, well within the margin of error of 4.7 per cent. That survey was conducted after 18 months of tensions in the U.S.-Israel relationship, with the collapse of Israel-Palestinian talks in the spring of 2014. The month the poll was taken, in August 2015, Obama was pressing hard for the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel’s government and the centrist pro-Israel community vigorously opposed.
Trump has striven to make good relations with Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly prefers his presidency to that of Obama.
Jewish approval of the Iran deal in the 2015 poll was in a statistical dead heat, with 50 per cent in favour and 47 per cent opposed. Trump wants to scrap the deal, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. He may do so as soon as next month, when according to law, he must recertify Iranian adherence to the deal.
Jews continue to identify more as liberal and as Democrat than not. Among respondents, 54 per cent said they were liberal, 22 per cent classified themselves as moderate, and 22 per cent said they were conservative. Party wise, 54 per cent said they were Democrats, 15 per cent said they were Republicans and 20 per cent Independent. Asked whether they voted in November for Trump or Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, the numbers were statistically commensurate with how respondents in the AJC poll from a year ago – focusing almost exclusively on the election – said they would vote: 64 per cent said they voted for Clinton and 18 per cent for Trump. Last year the numbers were 61-19.
Republicans who believe a candidate more conventional than Trump could score better may take comfort in what this year’s poll reported regarding Vice-President Mike Pence, who has a longstanding relationship with the organized pro-Israel community: His unfavourable-favourable rating, 62-30, was more in line with how Jews have voted in recent years than Trump’s negatives.
The poll shows a further erosion of U.S. Jewish approval of Netanyahu, who once polled consistently favourably among American Jews. In 2015, the last time the question was asked, U.S. Jews approved of Netanyahu’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, 57-42. This year, it’s a statistical dead heat, with respondents disapproving 47 per cent to 45 per cent approving. Netanyahu has come under fire in recent months from major U.S. Jewish groups for reneging on pledges to loosen restrictions on the practice in Israel of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
Asked as in years past how respondents perceive anti-Semitism in the United States, the numbers on the surface show consistency: 84 per cent see it as a problem this year, while 16 per cent do not. That jibes with 85 per cent in 2015 who saw it as a problem, higher than the 73 per cent scored last year.
There is a notable spike, however, on closer examination: The number who classified the anti-Semitism problem in the United States as “very serious” soared to 41 per cent this year from the 21 per cent of the past two polls. That may result from associations between Trump and the “alt-right,” a grouping of anti-establishment conservatives who include within their ranks anti-Semites, as well as Trump’s equivocation on condemning anti-Semitism and bigotry, most recently last month when a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended in deadly violence.
The other notable increase was in which nation posed the “single greatest danger” to the United States. North Korea, which has intensified its nuclear testing as tensions ratchet up with the Trump administration, was by far the leader this year at 57 per cent. Next was Russia at 22 per cent – a result perhaps of intensified coverage of Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s election.
In 2015, the last time a similar question was asked, the highest scorer was the Islamic State, the terrorist group, at 51 per cent. Also known as ISIS, it did not appear as an option this year. The order behind the Islamic State that year was China (13 per cent), Russia (10 per cent), Iran (9.5 per cent) and North Korea (6 per cent), the last of five listed.
The telephone poll of 1,000 respondents was conducted by SSRS, a research firm, from Aug. 10 to 28. It has a margin of error of 3.71 percent.