March 20, 2013
Confusion Central: So How Many Israelis Think Obama is “Pro Israel”?
The only two parties where a majority of voters see Obama as friendly toward Israel are Meretz (59%) and Labor (54%). That’s what the poll by Israel’s Democracy Institute says. In other words: the only voters who believe Obama is friendly are opposition voters (secular opposition voters for that matter: Religious Israelis, as we showed three days ago, don’t have a very favorable view of the visiting President).
Anyway, this post attempts to explain how it is possible that the three most recent polls about Obama’s “pro Israel” stance got answers ranging from 12% (Panels Politics), to 18% (IDI) to 26% (Smith for JPost). It's not like 26% is such an achievement, of course: as JPost’s Gil Hoffman rightly explains, President Obama will still “have to fight an uphill battle in his effort to win over the support of Israelis”. Nevertheless, what we see in the JP survey is a clear upward movement in the President's numbers- a stark contrast to the PP survey in which Obama declined from 14% last month to 12% this month.
You can see in our tracker of Israeli Opinion on Obama, that changes occur between different polls and different times, but the fact that such differences appear on the same day is intriguing. This isn't the first time this has happened and it merits some explanation.
The polls we follow in our tracker are all polls in which the question in general is about Obama being “pro Israeli”, “pro Palestinian” or “neutral”. But the framing of the question is not always exactly similar and the methodology is not the same as well. Smith uses a telephone, while PP's is an internet panel – and this alone can be the reason for differences. Also: if one takes into account the margin of error for the IDI and PP polls, it is quite reasonable to get a 6% difference. So we have many ways to explain the gap, but let's focus for a moment on the more interesting content of the questions.
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”).
IDI’s question is: “How would you characterize the position of U.S. President Barack Obama toward Israel and the Palestinians?” The options are also different: “more pro Israel”, “more pro Palestinian”, “balanced” (and refuse, 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).
Let’s look at this in a table that will make it clearer:
See what I'm getting at? I’m not yet sure if I’m right, and more analysis might be needed to make this clear, but this is the speculative explanation I can currently provide.
The higher view of Obama in the Smith poll has a reason. In fact, two reasons. The first and the obvious one is that it asks about "the Obama administration" and not about Obama. The question is not personal but rather institutional – and respondents can answer it positively even if they have a certain dislike or distrust toward the president himself. The second reason: The Smith poll asks a comparative question. Is he “more” pro Israel or “more” pro Palestinian. To choose the more positive answer all one has to believe is that Obama (or in this case the Obama administration) is tilted, however slightly, towards Israel compared to the Palestinians (even then most Israelis didn’t pick this option).
The IDI poll is different because A. it's personal ("President Barack Obama" and not the "administration"), and B. it's not bluntly comparative. It asks the respondents to “characterize” Obama’s position without specifically saying that it needs to be compared to his position on the Palestinians. However, two things make this poll too more favorable to Obama. The first one concerns the question: while there’s no specific request for a comparative view in it, the Palestinians are still mentioned; The second one concerns the possible responses: the options in the answer column turn this into a comparative poll, because what respondents choose is the answer “more pro Israel” – more, that is, than pro Palestinian.
Panels Politics ask a much more general question – they ask respondents to “define” President Obama. There’s no mention of an “other side” and no comparative perspective, just the naked definition itself: is he “pro Israel”? Apparently, when Israelis are asked about Obama and Israel – and not about Obama and Israel and the Palestinians – his numbers suddenly become lower. And by the way: when PP asked a different question in the past – “Does President of the US Barack Obama lean toward the Israeli side, the Arab side, or toward no side (neutral)?” – Obama’s numbers were much higher. Take a look for example at PP polls from 2010 and 2012.
Bottom line: we will soon add to our tracking table the exact question asked in each poll we add.