Monday, November 05, 2012

Israelis have opinions! Should you care?

That's the existential question posed by two articles I found. One by Abraham Katsman points out that 85% of American Israelis voted for Romney.
Israel has become a “red state” through such a solidly Republican vote.  In fact, if Israel were in the United States, it would be the “reddest” state in the entire country.  Redder, even, than Utah, or Wyoming or Oklahoma.  Significantly redder.  That should be a startling development for the Democrats, who once owned the pro-Israel vote.
Not really. The Israeli left has been on the ropes for anywhere between the last 9 and 13 years (depending on how you count), whereas American Jews tend to be overwhelmingly liberal. I personally think part of the reason for the difference (along with the security situation, which obviously plays a role) is that the Israeli political system allows for a much wider range of representation than the American two-party system. In any event, the Israeli left is in rather bad shape right now, whereas the American Jewish left, while perhaps losing some market share to the center-right, is still clearly the dominant force in the American Jewish political scene. Also, this whole thought experiment is incredibly stupid in the first place, as if Israel was part of the United States, its whole political landscape would be reshuffled as some of its most existential issues (security, synagogue & state, Jewish demographics, the West Bank territories, etc) would be drastically different if not off the table entirely. Hey, what if Israel was part of Mars?
Second, that 14% for Obama is 40% lower than the vote he received from Israel in 2008.  That should worry his campaign.  Even if his support in the Jewish community in America has eroded by only half that much, he may have trouble clearing the 60% mark.  An interesting historical note: for almost a century, every Republican candidate who received 30% or more of the Jewish vote was victorious–and it looks like Romney will win well over 30%.
Sorry, you're wrong. Polls are showing Obama will likely take 75% of the Jewish vote. Romney will probably only get around 25%, like McCain before him.
the Israel-based voters–who overwhelmingly voted Romney–were unusually highly motivated to vote.  Compare that to the 5% participation rate in the rest of the world–voters who lean towards Obama–and quite a contrast emerges between the relative levels of motivation to vote between supporters of each candidate.  This appears to be an extreme example something U.S. polls now show: higher motivation to vote corresponds to higher likelihood of voting for Romney.  And motivation correlates with turnout.  That is a doubly good sign for Republicans.
I guess, but I'm still unconvinced this means much. In 2008, Obama got almost 69,500,000 votes, compared to McCain's 60,000,000. Unless all those voters are from swing states (and they're not), 80,000 votes just isn't all that significant-- unless, of course, you're an operative for the Republican party and are trying to convince people that Romney has more Jewish traction-- and therefore, more general traction, period-- than he actually does. Incidentally, who does Katsman work for? Ah yes, he's a lawyer for Republicans Abroad Israel. Color me shocked.
Not surprisingly, the primary motivating issues in the Israel-based vote are Israel-related issues, such as candidates’ policies on Israeli defense and security, the American-Israeli relationship, the status of Jerusalem, the peace process, and policies regarding Iran and its nuclear program.  82% of respondents considered such issues most important, and 88% of those voted for Romney.  If voters with such concerns so heavily favor Romney among Israel-based Americans, there may be a corresponding  higher-than-expected Romney vote among U.S.-based voters concerned with the same issues.
EXCEPT that most Jews don't vote based primarily on those issues. Because, you know, they don't live in Israel. I guess this might help him with Evangelicals, but guess what, he was already going to get that vote.

What does it all mean?  In the short-run, this is all great news for Romney and the Republicans.  But in the longer run, it is healthier for both Israel and America when strong pro-Israel support is solidly bipartisan. Such a one-sided vote as we just had means that something is out of whack.  In fact, several high-profile Democrats have complained that Israel support is becoming a partisan, Republican issue. 
This vote, however, highlights what those complaining Democrats are missing.  It’s not that the Republicans have somehow driven a wedge between the Democrats and the pro-Israel community; it’s that the Democrats, led by President Obama, have drifted far enough away from their once-solid support of Israel that even life-long Democrats are crossing the aisle.

Right, except that some of the harshest Jewish Democratic critics of Obama's first term are now endorsing him. Whoops.

So what does it all really mean? Not a lot, other than that a lot of Israelis don't like Obama (and, possibly, that a lot of the increased voter registration in this election was done by Republican organizations with the goal of getting more votes for the Republican candidate). However much Katsman tries to spin it, the reality is that both parties still support Israel as an ally, so the contention that the Democrats have abandoned Israel and the only remaining party for Zionists is the Republicans is just hogwash. If the vote is really so one-sided, it indicates that either a lot of those who voted (including registered Democrats) either personally dislike Obama or have been turned off of the Democratic party, or that the Republicans have been better at spreading their message than the Democrats. Let's be honest, how many people actually believe that the "best" candidate or party is always the one that gets the most votes?

Additionally, as mentioned before, American Jews are not single-issue voters.
For the vast majority of Jews, Israel ranks surprisingly low in their considerations as voters. Early in 2012, the Public Religion Research Institute found that among self-identified Jewish adults, 51% of those registered to vote cited the economy as the most important issue driving their voting decision. Fifteen percent cited the growing gap between the rich and the poor, while 10% cited health care and 7% the deficit. Only 4% cited Israel as the most important issue to their vote. 
As David Harris, Executive Director of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee, put it, "Jews are multi-issue voters. The notion they are single-issue voters is simply wrong."
That kind of deflates the main contention of Republicans like Katsman. Israelis can-- and should-- vote however they want. But however much they'd like us to, American Jews are unlikely to base their vote on what their Israeli cousins say.

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