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Post-Visit Israeli Opinion of Obama: Better but Far From Great

by Shmuel Rosner

April 11, 2013 | 7:31 am

President Obama, photo by Reuters

So how is Obama doing among Israelis? I'm not going to rehash the reasons for which this question is important, and I'm not going back to explain the trajectory of Obama's approval ratings in Israel. You can take a look at our graphs and see for yourself what it's been like in the past four years (you might also want to read our recent piece-Confusion Central: So How Many Israelis Think Obama is “Pro Israel”?). What we have today is another Israeli post-Obama-visit poll, one which makes the post-Obama-visit picture clearer to understand. The visit, as I explained last week, was a very good one, even if the US and Israeli policies regarding Iran and the Palestinian issues are still somewhat at odds.

The visit was not just about policy, of course, it was also – and some would argue mostly – about public perception. And while the verdict of the Israeli press was definitely and overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the visit and about the President, what actual Israelis think about Obama following the visit is more important – and also less definite. There weren't many polls examining Obama's Israeli numbers following the visit; but the one by Smith from two weeks ago (taken almost immediately after the visit), coupled with the one I'm going to present here by Panels Politics (and I have to thank my friend, pollster Menachem Lazar, for sharing the results with me), can give us a picture from which some conclusions can be drawn with relative confidence.

First, the numbers from the new PP poll: Lazar asked his respondents to say if they would "define Obama as a true friend of the State of Israel". Here are the responses-

He then asked them the question that is often used to measure the public perception of the President: Is he pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian or "neutral"? Look at the following table in which I present both the Smith survey and the PP survey, pre and post visit:

Note that the questions are not the same in the two polls. Smith asks: "Do you think Obama's administration is more pro-Israel, more pro-Palestinian or neutral?" the options to choose from are "pro Israel", "pro Palestinian", "neutral" (and "don't know"). Menachem Lazar of Panels Politics asks: "How would you define Barack Obama?" and the options are: "pro Israeli", "pro Palestinian", "neutral" (and don't know).

The changes (pre-visit to pro-visit) are also not the same. In the Smith poll there's only a slight improvement in Obama's positives (in fact, in the Obama administration's positives), while most of the improvement is in the decline of the negatives – many Israelis moved from the critical "pro-Palestinian" column to the less critical let's-wait-and-see "neutral" position. In the PP survey there's a more notable increase in the "pro-Israel" numbers while the "pro-Palestinian" camp decreases in a similar percentage (the "neutral" camp stays about the same).

That being said, the differences between the polls still leave them both with relatively similar stats: Obama's 'pro-Israel' numbers are in the mid twenties (the Smith poll has the higher number because it asks about the administration and not about the person), his 'pro-Palestinian' numbers are in the low twenties, and about forty percent of Israelis think he is "neutral". In other words: Obama's standing with Israelis has improved but is still far from being great. I also suspect that the improvement from "pro-Palestinian" to "neutral" is probably very fragile, and that the numbers could easily change back if future events find Obama at odds with policies which most Israelis support. If someone was expecting Obama's numbers in Israel to reach a level at which they can help him shape Israeli public opinion – I don't think he's there (yet?).

Two last quick points:

1) Obama is much more popular with Israeli women than he is with men. 32% of men say he is "pro-Palestinian" but only 16% of women; 32% of men give him the benefit of the doubt and define him as "neutral" compared to 52% of women (the "pro-Israel" number is about the same for men and women, though).   

2) One's level of religiosity is still the easiest way to anticipate one's attitude toward Obama in Israel. On the first PP question, 65% of secular Israelis say that Obama is "a true friend" compared to 14% of religious Israelis. Take a look at this PP table for answers on the second question :

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