American Jews are feeling "grumpy," according to the American Jewish Committee's take on its latest public opinion survey.
That's not good news for President Barack Obama, whose Jewish approval level has dipped below 50 percent. But American Jews also don't seem particularly excited about the Republicans hoping to replace him.
Jews now approve and disapprove of Obama's performance in roughly equal numbers, according to the annual poll, released Monday. It shows 45 percent of American Jews approve of Obama as opposed to 48 percent disapproving — the difference falling within the survey's margin of error of 3 percentage points. The numbers show a substantial drop for Obama from the 57 percent of Jews who approved of his performance in the 2010 AJC survey.
Asked about various areas of Obama's performance, American Jews were the most sour on how he has handled the economy, with 60 percent of respondents disapproving and only 37 percent approving.
"They continue to be grumpy about the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, they're pessimistic about the prospects of solving the Iran problem," said David Harris, AJC's executive director. "But they're grumpiest about the economy."
Jewish Republicans have been attacking Obama on foreign policy and the economy lately.
"We'll be talking about domestic issues like the economy, like we did in 2010 and 2009," said Matthew Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition's executive director. Republican efforts to win over Jews in 2008 focused almost entirely on the issue of Israel, and Obama got 78 percent of the Jewish vote.
The AJC poll showed a near tie in the president's approval and disapproval levels on foreign policy, with 47 percent of Jews approving and 48 percent dissenting.
More troubling for Democrats was the drop in perceptions of how Obama has handled the U.S.-Israel relationship, with 53 percent disapproving and 40 percent approving this year. Last year, 45 percent disapproved and 49 percent approved.
David A. Harris, the National Jewish Democratic Council's president — and no relation to the AJC director — noted the difference between Obama's approval level on Israel policy and Jewish Americans' sunnier view of the overall U.S.-Israel relationship, with 63 percent characterizing it as either very or somewhat positive.
"It's like going to a restaurant and saying 'I love the food, but I don't like the chef,' " he said. "That places in stark relief a communications and messaging problem."
Brooks, however, disagreed. "I don't think they have a messaging problem; they have a policy problem, and that's what the campaigns are going to be about."
Meanwhile, American Jews' approval of Netanyahu's handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship dropped, too, to 54 percent approving and 32 percent disapproving, from 62 percent approving and 27 percent disapproving last year.
Asked about Palestinians' pursuit of statehood recognition absent talks with Israel, 88 percent of respondents said they were opposed. Seventy-three percent of respondents supported pulling U.S. aid from the Palestinian Authority if it enters a unity government with Hamas. A nearly unanimous 96 percent said the Palestinians should have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in any final peace agreement.
The Synovate-run poll, which surveyed 800 respondents by phone between Sept. 6 and Sept. 21, came before Obama defended Israeli security needs at the United Nations. He noted the violence Israel faces from its neighbors and referred to Israel as the Jewish people's "historic homeland."
While Obama's ratings have taken a nosedive, the survey does not show very high support for any of the leading Republicans hoping to challenge him in 2012. Presented with hypothetical match-ups of Obama against various Republican candidates, respondents favored Obama.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who is perceived as the most moderate of the top Republican contenders, performed the best against Obama. Romney garnered the backing of 32 percent of respondents, as opposed to the president's 50 percent. The remainder of the respondents either said they favored neither candidate or were not sure.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry earned the favor of 25 percent of respondents to Obama's 55 percent, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was supported by 19 percent to the president's 59 percent. In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earned 22 percent of the Jewish vote.
Regarding party affiliation, 45 percent of respondents said they were Democrats, 16 percent said they were Republicans and 38 percent said they were independents. Religious affiliation broke down as follows: 29 percent Reform, 22 percent Conservative, 9 percent Orthodox, 1 percent Reconstructionist and 37 percent "just Jewish."