For quite some time now, our Israel Factor panel has seemed to believe that of all the GOP candidates Mitt Romney is the best as far as Israel is concerned, and that in a race between Romney and Barack Obama, the former is the better candidate for Israel. But why do they consider Romney to be better than Obama? The general question that is included in every Israel Factor survey only requires that the panel would rank the candidates from 1 (bad for Israel) to 10 (great for Israel) - in our latest survey Obama’s average is 6.78 and Romney’s is 7.67. It doesn’t give much of an answer as to why one candidate seems better than the other.
In our February 2012 survey though, we do have something resembling an answer to this question. One of the questions in this survey required the panel to rank Obama and Romney on some key issues: Which of the two is more likely to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; which of the two could advance the peace process; whose support can Israel trust, who’s going to make the US more influential in the region.
The panel gave Obama the upper hand on several of these issues:
He seems more likely to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; he knows better how to deal with Middle East turmoil; he will make the US more influential in the Middle East – and for Israel having a powerful US is a strategic asset.
However, on the seemingly more important questions Romney is the one the panel trusts more. He will stand with Israel against delegitimization more than Obama, says the panel - an indication that not even his rousing UN speech on Israel a couple of months ago was strong enough to erase all past suspicions regarding his true positions. The panel, quite expectantly, believes that Romney will have a better dialogue with the Israeli government than Obama does – since it’s pretty clear that Netanyahu is going to be Israel’s Prime Minister even after another round of elections, such assessment is pretty much stating the obvious.
The most important question on which Romney scores higher than Obama though is the one on Iran. He is, believes the panel, the candidate that’s “more likely to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons”. And as argued in many previous Factor surveys, Iran is the best predictor of a candidate’s favorability with our panel (and I’d argue, also with most of none-panel-member Israelis). Here’s how we framed it when we explained a Factor survey from 2006:
But there are some other interesting elements in the scoring for the questions on Iran. The marks the panel gave the candidates on this specific question are a pretty good indication of the general rankings. And here are some examples: The three candidates “best for Israel” - Giuliani, Gingrich and McCain - are the only ones who got more than 6 on the question of force against Iran.
And if you want a little bit more complicated example - this time from 2008 – here’s a post dealing with the question that is still relevant: Why does the panel always prefer Obama’s rival (whether the Democratic Clinton or the Republican McCain, and now Romney)?
Two policy-related matters were marked with an average of higher than 3, and, interestingly, these were not matters specifically concerning Israel but rather issues related to Obama’s overall strategy: Iran and terror… Clearly, for those preferring McCain, Iran is an overwhelming issue, and all of them ranked Obama low on this question.
Bottom line: As long as the panel believes that Romney is the better candidate to deal with Iran, it is also likely to think that Romney is the better candidate for Israel.