Jewish Journal


May 12, 2013

Confidence in Obama, Support for WOW: 3 Comments on 2 Polls



Barack Obama. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS.


There aren't many surprises in Pew's recent survey of views on Israel and Palestine. Israel isn't popular in the world, Netanyahu isn't popular in the world, many Israelis and Palestinians don't see much chance for peace, Israelis love the US, Palestinians don't.

The interesting part of the survey deals with Israelis' views of Obama's. Interesting – since we've been waiting to see signs of a favorability bump following Obama's visit to Israel. The Pew poll has some such signs, but not as many as one might think. The headlines announcing that Israelis are "confident in Obama's policy", and that "Obama's popularity is rising in Israel" were not exactly accurate. Let's take a look at what the poll really says about Israelis and Obama. There are three things:

- About six-in-ten (61%) Israelis expressed confidence in the American president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, up from 49% in 2011. This is where Israelis show more confidence in Obama than last year.

- Israeli Jews have more confidence in Obama than Israeli Arabs, Israeli seculars more than religious. This isn't new, but still intriguing as one remembers how Arab Israelis were the ones much more enthusiastic about Obama when he first came into office.

- About half (49%) of Israelis would like the Obama administration to be more involved in resolving the conflict in the Middle East- also a demonstration of confidence.

Let's look at the numbers, though, and not just the headlines. What you have here is a graph with results from the last three polls by Pew, in which we merged those who said they have "a lot of confidence" and "some confidence" in "U.S. President Barack Obama to do the right thing regarding world affairs", and also merged those who have "not too much confidence" with those who have "no confidence at all". Take a look, and read 2 comments following it:






Confidence/ Year




A Lot/Some confidence




Little/No confidence


A. 2013 is an improvement compared to 2011, but is only slightly better than 2009. The Obama bump merely brought his numbers in Israel to 2009 levels plus some.

B. The question in this poll is different than the one in most other polls. Thus, writing something like "Remember when President Obama's approval rating among Israelis was in the single digits? That was August 2009 when it bottomed at 4%. A lot has changed since then…" is giving readers the wrong impression. Obama didn't climb from 4% to 61%. He climbed from 56% to 61% - nice, but hardly as impressive.  


In the more common framing of the Obama question – is he "pro Israel" or "pro Palestinian" or "neutral" – the President's numbers are not as good.

In the Pew survey, there's a seemingly similar question: "What’s your opinion of U.S. policies in the Middle East – would you say they are fair or do they favor Israel too much or do they favor the Palestinians too much?". I say "seemingly" for the following reasons:

- It is about "US policies" and not about Obama personally.

- And it has this weird addition of "too much", hinting to respondents that there's something wrong with favoring Israel (or the Palestinians). In other words: the wording of this question would make respondents more aware to the fact that if they say that the US is favoring anyone they essentially criticize the US.

What we did with this question is show the three polls Pew provides us with. Note that the previous two polls, from 2003 and from 2007, ask about G.W. Bush policies. Take a look at the graph, followed by 2 comments:













Favors Israel




Favors Palestinians

  1. As you can see, Israelis' view of US policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians didn't change much. They didn't think that the Bush administration favored the Palestinians and they still don't  see such a tendency in the US – the change in the red line is very minor.
  2. The tricky part is this: Israelis today think that the US is fairer than it used to be – but is this a compliment or an implied criticism? By the way the Pew question is framed you'd think "fair" is good and "favors Israel" is "too much". The way I see it, Israelis probably want the US to "favor Israel" and would not complain about it by saying that it's "too much". Thus, for them to state that the US is "fair" – 10% fairer than it was in the Bush years – is a way of saying that they aren't as happy about Obama (or US policy in the Obama years) as they were about Bush. In fact, this looks not much different from the outcome of the "pro Israel, pro Palestinian, Neutral" polls that we include in our "Israeli opinion on Obama" tracker.


If you follow my twitter account you already know that the Israeli public – according to the new IDI Peace Index poll – is supportive of Women of the Wall. Sunday morning, the poll itself was not yet available in English, so all you can read is the press release according to which "support for the Women of the Wall is highest among self-defined secular Israeli Jews (64%) and the traditional-non-religious (53%).  Traditional-religious (26%), religious (28%), and ultra-Orthodox (0%) support them to a lesser degree". Not really surprising, is it?

The Hebrew version is available online, and it's important for those interested in the exact wording of the Index question. Here it is:

Recently, there were several clashes between the police and "Women of the Wall" who insist on their equal right to pray near the Western Wall with Talith and Tefillin. Do you support or oppose that WOW should be allowed to pray there in the way they seem fit?"

Later, another layer was added with the following question: "now that the court ruled that prayer of women at the Kotel should not be considered as different from Minhag hamakom (the tradition in this area) and isn't criminal, and that there's no justification to preventing them from praying at the Kotel, do you support or oppose that WOW should be allowed to pray there in the way they seem fit?"

For this second question, "support for Women of the Wall grew to 56%, while 34% maintained their opposition".

One quick comment before you begin celebrating the success of WOW: As much as it is heart warming to see that the level of tolerance of Israelis is high, and that they have little sympathy for strict Orthodoxy, matters such as the Kotel dispute tend to be determined by the majority of people who really care, not the majority of the public. In other words: Friday morning there were several hundreds people supportive of WOW at the Kotel, and several thousands in opposition to them (some of it ugly and violent). The majority was silently sleeping through Friday morning, and isn't going to raise a finger for this cause. One more reason to stick with the Sharansky compromise instead of being tempted into believing that compromise is no longer necessary.

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