Last week I attended a couple of sessions in a conference about Security in Changing Times: The Future of US-Israel Relations at IDC Herzliya. Among them was a panel on "The changing nature of domestic politics in Israel and the US: Will this upend the traditional relationship between the two nations?"
Three panelists spoke at this session, all armed with illuminating graphs: Ken Schultz of Stanford University, Lisa Martin of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Amnon Cavari of IDC. A timely panel, especially so considering last week's new PEW analysis of American support for Israel.
All participants in the panel repeated many of the themes with which readers of this Domain should be familiar. One such issue, emphasized by Martin, was the "raising vote share of constituencies that do not have a dominant interest in US-Israel relations". In one of her graphs one could see that non-white voters are not as sympathetic to Israel as white voters.
Another such issue was the growing Democratic-Republican gap in supporting Israel. While Israel favorability in the US is high – as our own graphs by Prof. Camil Fuchs are clearly showing – there are big differences between the voters of the parties (and Independents) on this matter. As said above, another proof for this gap was provided as recently as last week by PEW.
"The 29-point partisan gap in the percentages sympathizing more with Israel is about the same as it has been in recent years", PEW analysts inform the readers, "but differences were more modest a decade ago, and in 1978, shortly after the Israel-Egypt peace agreement, the gap was just five points". Using Gallup polls data, Schultz demonstrated this growing gap – but then followed it by more detailed analysis.
First – the gap:
And here's another gap – between Americans with "high political interest":
And those with "low political interest":
What Schultz wanted to emphasize is that "politicians are responsive to those constituencies for whom the issue has high salience and who have information and resources to influence policy". And those constituencies – as shown above – tend to be more "pro-Israel". Hence, the gap one might see between public attitudes toward Israel and congressional attitudes towards Israel has simple reason: legislators take into account the opinions of their most ardent voters, and those ardent voters are more pro-Israel than the low-interest voters. Schultz argues that the voters he calls PICHSIs (Pro Israel Constituencies with High Salience and Information) "serve [as] an anchor that limits the distance the two parties can drift apart at the elite level".
Nevertheless, one can't ignore the Democratic intra-party polarization on Israel that was presented with more graphs and numbers by Schultz (go see them here – I suspect some of my readers have little patience for graphs, so I'm limiting myself to just a handful). That President Obama faces a split party on Israel, Schultz argued, would make "inaction the natural response" for him. That's not far from the projection made by our Israel Factor panel.