Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jim Gerstein

Agenda Polling

So J Street’s pollster, Jim Gerstein (who was also a founding VP of J Street), has done a poll of Israelis for the New America Foundation. It is being billed as a repudiation of the famous Jerusalem Post poll conducted in June that found that only 6 percent of Israelis consider the Obama administration to be pro-Israel. The new Gerstein poll is advertised by NAF as proving that “Israelis actually demonstrate a much more supportive and nuanced view of President Obama” than was the case in the previous poll.

I was always skeptical of the original poll. The numbers just seemed too low to be credible, and the poll was conducted right after Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, when passions were high. But the way to credibly disprove those numbers is to sample a similar group and ask the same questions. Unsurprisingly, that’s not what Gerstein did.

The JPost poll was conducted among Jewish Israelis. Gerstein, however, polled everyone, including Arabs, who comprised 16 percent of his sample (an under-sampling, actually — almost 20 percent of Israelis are Arab). More important, he did not ask the same, or even a similar, question. He asked a question that was sure to make Obama look better than the previous poll: not whether the respondent thought that the Obama administration was pro-Israel, but whether the respondent had warm feelings toward Barack Obama personally.

This is where the poll found a 41 percent “favorable rating” for Obama. But having warm feelings toward a politician is not the same thing as approving of his performance in office. The exact same phenomenon has been documented in numerous polls of Americans, who consistently give Barack Obama higher approval marks than his policies.

It looks to me like the poll itself was conducted responsibly, and it has many interesting findings, including that more than twice the number of Israelis identify with the Right than with the Left. But the PR effort being waged on its behalf, however, is not being conducted all that honestly. There was no effort in the Gerstein poll to replicate, even vaguely, the question that the Jerusalem Post poll asked: Do you believe that the Obama administration is pro-Israel? Instead, Gerstein asked an Oprah Winfrey–style question about whether Barack Obama gives you warm fuzzies, and included the Israeli Arab population in his sample, which the JPost poll did not.

I have little doubt that another poll replicating the JPost‘s questions and sample demographic would find that far more than 6 percent of Israeli Jews believe that the Obama administration is pro-Israel. It’s too bad that the New America Foundation didn’t take the opportunity to find out. The full poll can be read here.

So J Street’s pollster, Jim Gerstein (who was also a founding VP of J Street), has done a poll of Israelis for the New America Foundation. It is being billed as a repudiation of the famous Jerusalem Post poll conducted in June that found that only 6 percent of Israelis consider the Obama administration to be pro-Israel. The new Gerstein poll is advertised by NAF as proving that “Israelis actually demonstrate a much more supportive and nuanced view of President Obama” than was the case in the previous poll.

I was always skeptical of the original poll. The numbers just seemed too low to be credible, and the poll was conducted right after Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, when passions were high. But the way to credibly disprove those numbers is to sample a similar group and ask the same questions. Unsurprisingly, that’s not what Gerstein did.

The JPost poll was conducted among Jewish Israelis. Gerstein, however, polled everyone, including Arabs, who comprised 16 percent of his sample (an under-sampling, actually — almost 20 percent of Israelis are Arab). More important, he did not ask the same, or even a similar, question. He asked a question that was sure to make Obama look better than the previous poll: not whether the respondent thought that the Obama administration was pro-Israel, but whether the respondent had warm feelings toward Barack Obama personally.

This is where the poll found a 41 percent “favorable rating” for Obama. But having warm feelings toward a politician is not the same thing as approving of his performance in office. The exact same phenomenon has been documented in numerous polls of Americans, who consistently give Barack Obama higher approval marks than his policies.

It looks to me like the poll itself was conducted responsibly, and it has many interesting findings, including that more than twice the number of Israelis identify with the Right than with the Left. But the PR effort being waged on its behalf, however, is not being conducted all that honestly. There was no effort in the Gerstein poll to replicate, even vaguely, the question that the Jerusalem Post poll asked: Do you believe that the Obama administration is pro-Israel? Instead, Gerstein asked an Oprah Winfrey–style question about whether Barack Obama gives you warm fuzzies, and included the Israeli Arab population in his sample, which the JPost poll did not.

I have little doubt that another poll replicating the JPost‘s questions and sample demographic would find that far more than 6 percent of Israeli Jews believe that the Obama administration is pro-Israel. It’s too bad that the New America Foundation didn’t take the opportunity to find out. The full poll can be read here.

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