The two Presidential rivals were closer last month, but the April 2012 survey of the Israel Factor (now part of our exclusive J-Meter feature) draws them apart.
Romney scored 7.22 (out of 10) in March, and is now on 7.5. Obama scored 7.11 last month and is now on 6.9. All in all, Romney was always ahead of Obama in our survey and is still leading on the question we ask every month: Looking ahead for 2012, please rate the following presidential candidates on scale of 1 (bad for Israel) to 10 (good for Israel).
It is interesting to ask, though, why the panel thinks Romney is better for Israel than Obama. As you can see from the chart above, Obama is doing today better than he did in the past – it is not his best survey, but in the last year the panel’s approach towards him was generally more positive than in the past. So why would our expert panel still think Romney is the better one for Israel? Why do 5 of the 10 panelists rank Romney higher while only three rank Obama higher (the others give the two the same rank)?
One possible answer to this question might be found in the first question we ask this month (see full statistics here): Please rank the two presidential candidates – Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – on the following issues from 1 (totally disagree) to 10 (totally agree).
In two categories our panel give Obama higher marks: Shows good understanding of Middle East affairs (but that probably comes with the experience on the job); can advance the Israeli-Arab peace process (not that anyone really believes the peace process can be advanced at this time). On three categories – two of them are the more important categories – our panel tends to give Romney the upper hand. He “can be trusted to halt Iran’s nuclear program” better than Obama – but not by much. He “knows how to deal and to get along with Israel’s government” – that’s the polite way of saying: he will not fight as much with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Here Romney’s lead is significant and easily understandable, but I think is also insignificant.
The third item on the list is the key to understanding Romney’s lead over Obama in so many Israel Factor surveys: Romney, our panel believes, “is a true friend of Israel” – more so than Obama. Six of our panelists gave Romney the higher mark on this question, and only one gave Obama the higher mark. Call it the gut feeling question, the “true friend” test was always one of the most telling tests for candidates ranked by the Factor. Israelis trusted Presidents Clinton and Bush – opposites in many ways – because both of them easily passed the “true friend” test. Obama, the colder, more inaccessible President never did.
But for some reason, Romney does. He is not the warmest candidate. He is not the most engaging leader. But flip-flop on all other matters aside, on Israel the panel finds him to be consistent, and trustworthy. So what if he doesn’t understand the Middle East – he can learn. So what if he doesn’t have much better chance of stopping Iran – we know he’s going to try. So what if a Romney presidency will not be good for the peace process – Israelis are busy with more important things (Iran). Until Obama surpasses Romney in the “true friend” test, it will be hard for him to be considered “better” on Israel than the Republican candidate.