With less than five weeks to go in the 2012 presidential campaign, area pollsters agree that voters have largely made up their minds.
And despite a flood of media chatter about the Obama administration’s strained relations with Israel’s prime minister, the trend holds among Jews.
“Like much of the general public, a great majority in the Jewish community know today for whom they are hoping to vote,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville. “There is no amount of argumentation from the other side that will convince them.”
Asked to factor in the perceived strains between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, Dworkin told NJ Jewish News, “In the current political climate and the current media landscape, mistakes are disseminated, exploited, and forgotten. So if Netanyahu is in a public spat with the Obama administration it lasts for a handful of hours, and then we are on to the next thing.”
Dworkin concedes that Obama is unlikely to win 74-78 percent of the Jewish vote, as he did in 2008. However, he doesn’t see the deep erosion in support many Republican activists were hoping for.
“While he might not get those high numbers again, it is hard to conceive that history is going to reverse itself and we will see a complete flip of those numbers. It is not going to happen,” Dworkin predicted.
“In the swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio, the Jewish community will have an impact in how it votes, but not because it is a swing demographic. It is not as if the Jewish community is up for grabs,” he said.
While pollsters agree that anything can happen between now and Election Day, a number of polls taken in late September suggest that the president appeared to be widening his lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, in New Jersey and in many parts of the nation.
In a poll of swing states where both candidates are campaigning heavily, Obama continues to be gaining ground, according to Sept. 26 findings by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
In Florida, Obama leads Romney by 53 to 44 points. In Ohio, Obama is ahead, 53 to 43. In Pennsylvania the polls show Obama leading 53 to 42.
Similarly, a Sept. 25 Monmouth University poll of American voters showed Obama with a seven-point lead over Romney, 48 to 41 percent among all registered voters, and a three-point lead, 48 to 45 percent, among likely voters.
Meanwhile, the state’s congressional incumbents — Republicans as well as Democrats — “do not have much to worry about,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.
In the race for United States Senate, incumbent Democrat Robert Menendez is highly favored over his Republican rival, State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (Dist. 13).
“It is a race nobody is paying any attention to,” said Murray. “It is the undercard for the main event, and nobody is showing up for the opening act, so it will turn out as a coattails race. They don’t even know who the challenger is. There is a possibility that Menendez could outperform Obama, but not by much.”
“Menendez has widened his lead,” agreed John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics on Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus. Its most recent poll, released on Sept. 12, showed Menendez with a 12-point lead over Kyrillos among likely voters, 47 to 35 percent.
“That is interesting, because in recent past Senate races around this time, the Republican usually narrows the lead, and there gets to be talk about ‘Could this be an upset?’” said Weingart. “Kyrillos has been campaigning as a moderate Republican — supporting environmental protection and refusing to pledge to never raise taxes. For the moderate Republican voters who are left, I could see Kyrillos being much more appealing than Romney. These people may be saying, ‘I am a Republican and I can vote for Kyrillos but I can’t vote for Romney.’”
Although none of the pollsters has surveyed voters in House races, all believe that incumbents hold comfortable leads in NJ races. But some consider two districts to be “competitive.”
One is the newly drawn Ninth District, where eight-term Rep. Bill Pascrell is facing a financially well-endowed challenger, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
In August, casino operator Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam — top fund-raisers for Republicans — gave Boteach’s campaign $500,000. The rabbi “has obviously been able to raise enough money to make noise,” Dworkin told NJJN.
“Without the money, Boteach wouldn’t have a chance at all,” said Weingart. “But two years ago, when everything was tilted toward Republicans, I would think he would have had more of a chance than he does now.”
Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, agreed.
“Bergen County is your original suburb if there ever was one, and the chances of buying an election there by bombarding people with ads are, if not zero, damn close to it, “ he said.
Another closer-than-expected race pits Leonard Lance, the Republican incumbent in the Seventh District, against Upendra Chivukula, the Democratic Assembly member from Dist. 17.
“Chivukula has been able to raise some significant money and can be competitive,” noted Dworkin.
But, said Murray, though Chivukula “has run a spirited campaign and has done a good job of raising money…it is too heavily a Republican district.”
Taking a “contrarian view” on the huge amount of money spent on campaigns, Dworkin told NJJN, “I think you have diminishing returns at a certain point. If the Republicans have spent $1 billion on their campaigns and the Democrats have spent $600 million or $700 million, I don’t know whether the extra $300 million convinces anybody.
“Think of it this way,” he said: “Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola have huge advertising budgets. They do not match each other dollar for dollar, but people have already made up their minds about which one they like.”