In the run up to the recent mid-term elections, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) mounted an unprecedented advertising blitz in the Jewish media. The goal? To convince Jewish voters that the Republican party and its candidates best reflect the interests of America's Jews.
The campaign included two and a half months of weekly full-page ads in Jewish newspapers (and even some Russian-language publications) around the country as well as a 500,000-piece direct mailing. Not surprisingly, the campaign gained a lot of attention, but not just for its size. It was also accused of misstating facts and intentionally quoting politicians out of context to make its own partisan points.
To gauge the effectiveness of past ad campaigns, the RJC used the National Election Pool's exit polls as their benchmark. The NEP is a non-partisan organization founded by a consortium of national media outlets, including Fox News, CNN, CBS, NBC and Associated Press. In 2004, the National Election Pool initially suggested that 24% of the Jewish vote was cast to reelect Pres. George W. Bush --- an increase over previous elections. Months later when state samples were available (boosting the total sample from 250 or 300 to about 1500) the Bush's Jewish support slipped to 22% about the same as the 21% Bush received when he was first elected in 2000.
What value did the RJC get on their investment in 2006?
This fall, the National Election Pool conducted a similar exit poll. The results indicate that the RJC's ad campaign was something less than effective. According that poll, Republicans received only 12% of the Jewish vote in the mid-term elections; nearly half of their support had evaporated. This loss of GOP support among Jews mirrored GOP losses in the general electorate where Democrats increased their backing from 46.6% in 2004 to 57.7% in 2006.
Will big RJC donors be asking for their money back?
How does the Republican Jewish Coalition react to this rout?
They are in a state of denial. After a landslide in which they are only left with half of the support they had carefully nurtured over twelve years, they conducted for the first time their own internal survey which purports to show Jewish GOP vote actually increasing to 26.4%.
So which numbers are right?
In effect, the Republican Jewish Coalition abandoned the National Election Pool's exit poll results which they had used in the past, in favor of a home-grown "poll" focusing on particular demographic groups and geographical regions which were likely to be less unfavorable to the RJC. Indeed, according to Matthew Brook's own numbers the RJC oversampled Republicans and undersampled Democrats compared to the most recent American Jewish Committee Survey.
In order to assess this claim we need to take a look at the methodology used in each poll. The RJC has been reluctant to discuss their methodologies, but certain facts are worth noting.
Is the poll non-partisan?
The RJC poll was conducted by Republican political operative Arthur J. Finkelstein. Over the last twenty-five years, Finkelstein has directed campaigns to elect conservatives in the United States and Israel. On the other hand, the National Election Pool exit poll is conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, two well-known survey companies whose reputations are based on their accuracy and non-partisanship. Scholarly analysis of political polls usually ignores all polls commissioned by a group aligned with a particular party or candidate since such polls are usually non-predictive outliers.
When is an exit poll an exit poll?
While described as an "exit poll," the RJC polls were actually conducted over the telephone. Instead of picking random voters, the RJC called people and asked them if they had voted, and if so, for whom. According to University of Florida political science professor Kenneth Wald, "there is no assurance that those who say they voted or would vote actually did; [that is why] exit polls are done [exclusively] at polling places." It is well understood that people tend to respond to polls with the answer they feel they ought to have given. Perhaps Republicans insufficiently motivated to actually turn out at the polls were included as "voters" in the RJC survey.
Do Unaffiliated Jews Count?
The National Election Pool's exit poll asked voters to indicate their religion if any, and included as "Jewish" any voter who identified themselves as Jewish. In contrast, the RJC's phone survey asked if the "voter" attended an Orthodox, a Conservative or a Reform synagogue. If the caller was Reconstructionist or unaffiliated, the call was terminated. Prof. Steven M. Cohen, sociologist studying the American Jewish community at the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion determined that if the Republican Jewish Coalition's "restrictions were in place on a national level, 54% of America's Jews would qualify and 46% would not."
How are respondants selected?
Since Jews represent only 2% of the American population, the RJC did not call random people to see if they were Jewish. Doing so like the National Election Pool does would have been prohibitively expensive. Instead, they obtained "commercially available Jewish vote lists" which identify Jewish names. Matthew Brooks declined to provide additional information about the organizations selling their lists to the RJC, but it is likely that the organizations and their mailing lists do not provide a random cross-section of the Jewish community. For example, in the RJC sample, 17 percent of respondents included identified themselves as Orthodox, as compared to 8 percent in the most recent American Jewish Committee Survey. According to the RJC, 42 percent of Orthodox Jews vote Republican, so inflating the Orthodox Jewish vote inflates the overall Republican numbers. Matthew Brooks justified this practice saying, "We wanted to measure people who are practicing Jews [and] expressed some level of religious observance."
Is the survey national in scope?
The National Election Pool took great efforts to count every area of the country in proportion to their electorate. However, the RJC phone survey focused exclusively on voters in Florida's 22nd district, Pennsylvania's 6th district, and the state of New Jersey. According to the National Election Pool, Kean of New Jersey, though he lost, had the most Jewish support (28%) among all Republican Senate candidates. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's 6th district is a gerrymandered marvel designed specifically to elect Jim Gerlach to Congress. Gerlach squeaked by with 50.6% of the vote. These districts are not indicative of the overall trend in 2006, where Democratic candidates for Congress won 57.7% of the vote. Prof. Cohen concurred "The RJC-sponsored survey ... restricts its coverage to three areas with relatively high rates of Jewish residential density, where Republican inclinations run a bit higher." In particular, the RJC neglected to survey the Jewish community in liberal bastions such as New York, California, and Illinois. Instead, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer explained that they wanted to survey voters "where it mattered the most."
In 2004, the RJC had no trouble citing National Election Pool numbers when it served their interests. This fall, when those numbers showed a dramatic fall in Jewish support for the GOP, the RJC ignored them and relied instead on the results of its own dubious survey. What could have motivated such a maneuver? Could it be that the RJC was desperate to show its donors that the money they spent to fund the ad campaign wasnâ€™t wasted? As mentioned above, the RJC ad campaign was severely criticized for misstating facts and misquoting politicians. It appears the RJC applied the same level of accuracy to its poll.
In retrospect, after hearing the administration praise FEMA Chief Michael Brown for doing a "heck of a job" and hearing the administrations claims of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, is it surprising that the RJC is patting itself on the back for a job well-done?
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