A new poll [PPT] shows: (a) that Israelis oppose a strike on Iran unless it has American backing, which is being spun as showing that Israelis oppose a strike given Obama’s current stance; and (b) that Israelis prefer President Obama to anyone in the GOP field, which is being spun as showing that Israeli distrust of Obama has been wildly exaggerated. The anti-Israel left is even crowing that the poll undercuts Netanyahu on the eve of his meeting with the president.
The only problem is the survey shows exactly the opposite. On both issues.
Explaining why is fairly straightforward – in one case it’s a matter of literally going two questions down in the poll – but it still requires getting into the survey itself. So just as a summary: (a) an overwhelming majority of Israelis think a strike would get U.S. support despite Obama’s current position, and an overwhelming majority of Israelis support a strike under those conditions; and (b) two-thirds of Israelis refuse to support Obama regardless of whether the candidate is Mitt Romney or an anti-Semitic-ish candidate running on a platform of detonating the U.S./Israeli alliance. They just can’t bring themselves to do it.
Specifically on the U.S. election
Where the spin on Iran will get kind of insulting — see the forthcoming Part II — the story being spun on the U.S. election is just inexplicable. It’s not what the numbers are, and it’s certainly not what the numbers imply. The claim is Obama wins a plurality of Israeli support or Israeli Jewish support vs. each of the four GOP candidates, which is taken to mean he or his policies have the backing of the Israeli public. The quantitative claim is mostly true. The implication is not only unjustified but belied by the data.
Respondents were asked, “whom would you like to see elected as the next American president” and presented with questions pitting Obama vs. Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul. They could choose “Barack Obama,” the GOP candidate, “None of them,” or “I have no preferences.” The results for all Israelis were:
vs. “Mitt Romney”: 29 (Obama) / 29 (Romney) / 6 (None) / 7 (NP)
vs. “Rick Santorum”: 33 (Obama) / 18 (Santorum) / 7 (None) / 7 (NP)
vs. “Newt Gingrich”: 32 (Obama) / 25 (Gingrich) / 6 (None) / 6 (NP)
vs. “Ron Paul”: 32 (Obama) / 21 (Paul) / 6 (None) / 8 (NP)
The first thing you’ll notice is that Obama and Romney are tied among Israelis. In fairness, the split is 32/29 among Israeli Jews, though that’s still well within the +/-4 percent margin of error. Even Gingrich is within the MOE if you squint and assume a worst-case scenario.
The second thing you’ll notice is that roughly 30 percent of the Israeli electorate is missing from these responses. Those might be “no responses” – people who dropped off the call or refused to answer or whatever – but they might also be “undecideds.” The undecided number – per Ben Smith – wouldn’t contradict what you’d expect for the leader of a foreign country. Still, it speaks horribly for the survey’s robustness. If you take into account how that MOE was for the full sample, and so the actual MOE for these question is larger, this part of the survey begins to flirt with meaninglessness.
But even taking the numbers on their face, that just means the vast majority of Israelis have no opinion specifically on the GOP field vs. Obama (probably because they don’t know anything about the GOP field). Even the ones picking the GOP candidates might be reacting to Obama rather than to those candidates’ positions. That’s the best explanation for why the numbers are both strange and stable across the board – strong Israel supporter Santorum polls just below anti-Israel partisan Paul, while Obama’s support doesn’t change whether he’s up against Romney or Paul.
Instead, the numbers show the vast majority of Israelis can’t bring themselves to support Obama no matter what (so much for Netanyahu being undercut at home!) That’s the reaction you’d expect given the president’s early and repeated and even dishonest attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic posture, to say nothing of his dangerously weak position on Iran. But many pundits wish it weren’t so and are willing to pretend as much.