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December 18, 2011

The Israel Factor: Romney tops Gingrich who tops Obama

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/israel_factor_romney_tops_gingrich_who_tops_obama_20111218/

Photo

Republican U.S. presidential contender Mitt Romney addresses the crowd at a town hall meeting in Charleston on Dec. 17. Photo by REUTERS/Randall Hill

The Israel Factor project and panel has moved with me to the new Rosner’s Domain on The Jewish Journal. This is cause for celebration – the Factor was always one of the most provocative and widely read features of the Domain – but also for confusion – as I assume that some new readers have joined the domain’s ranks and aren’t quite familiar with the Israel Factor.

So let’s begin by restating the basic facts – veteran readers, I hope you bear with me: The Israel Factor started back in 2006 when I was still writing for Haaretz, and moved later to The Jerusalem Post. It is a group of Israeli experts – some professors, some former officials – who rank American politics and policies through Israeli lenses. To learn more about the way the Factor works, read here. To learn more about our panel of nine experts (we’ve grown from eight to nine) read here. To see our first-ever Factor survey read here. To read the most recent survey (before the current new one) read here.

The survey we present here today – this post is first and we will have a couple more such posts with more data based on this survey – was conducted at the beginning of December 2011. Some of the panelists sent their responses before the RJC candidates’ forum, during which most of the candidates talked about Israel. All but one sent their responses before the Gingrich “no Palestinian people” interview. They all sent their response, however, after three Obama officials voiced harsh criticism of Israel.

In previous 2011 Factor surveys the panel ranked Presidential candidates on the (simplistic but telling, see here) question of “good for Israel, bad for Israel”. In the most recent survey Romney was first among all Republican candidates, and the only one to get higher marks than President Obama. Back in July of 2011, the Republican field was somewhat different, but the panel was already placing Romney and Newt Gingrich – now the two most viable candidates – on top (the top candidate was Rudy Giuliani, but he never seemed serious about this race). Romney got a 7.4 from the panel (out of a possible 10), with Gingrich close behind at 6.83. However, back in July, Obama was lagging way behind these two, and behind four more GOP candidates. His battles with the Netanyahu government didn’t much help, and the GOP field might have seemed more promising to the panel. Today, this picture is somewhat changed. Obama is still lagging behind, but only behind two candidates, not six.

What’s more, in this survey we have, for the first time in this election cycle, asked the panel not just for general ranking of all Presidential candidates on “good/bad” for Israel, but also asked the panel to give us a taste of what’s going to happen when the race becomes a two-way race (after the GOP nominates its candidate). It is something we did back in 2008, as we were testing Obama against McCain, Obama against Romney, McCain against Clinton, Romney against Clinton (you can see such comparisons here). Obviously, the picture is now less complicated, when the Democratic candidate is the incumbent President, and two leading candidates on the Republican side, Romney and Gingrich. How would these two candidates fare against Obama? Our panelists were asked this question: “In the following head-to-head races – which candidate is the one better from Israeli perspective? Please give each of the two 1 (bad) to (5)”. The result:

                           
Barack ObamaMitt Romney
3.564
                           
Barack ObamaNewt Gingrich
3.564.11

What does this tell us about the candidates and the panel?

As regular readers of the Factor should know by now, our panel is not necessarily representative of the Israeli public’s point of view. The Factor’s panel has a centrist streak and doesn’t always follow the rule of “more hawkish is better for Israel” that many Israelis with no deep knowledge of American politics might adopt. We have panelists from the right, the left and of centrist views, and these panelists have different visions of what makes a candidate good for Israel.

However, the average we present here does tell us some interesting things:

While some of our panelists have positive view of Obama’s attitudes toward Israel, others have a very negative view of his Israel-related policies. In other words: When it comes to the Factor’s panel, Obama is a contentious candidate. Mitt Romney is not. Some of the panelists like him more, others like him less, but all in all, the panel finds him agreeable and, well, good for Israel. With small panels like the Factor’s, a candidate that isn’t controversial will almost always be the one with higher marks. That is why Romney gets better marks than Obama, and he also gets better marks than Gingrich: Gingrich is very well-liked by some, but is not at all liked by others. Both Gingrich and Obama get marks ranging from 1 to 5. Romney is pretty much a solid 4, with little deviation.

In other words: Panelists more eager to see a President that is heavily invested in the peace process don’t think Romney would be disastrous in that regard, and those wanting a President with other priorities aren’t afraid of a President Romney. Those wanting a tough American position towards Iran, believe Romney would be tough enough, and those wanting to avoid war with Iran see Romney as reasonably moderate and cautious.

Look at the following table to get some more sense of the panel’s proceedings. You should be warned – it is a table from a 2007 Factor survey, and we only kept the names of the candidates that still have a chance of becoming the party candidates coming 2012. What you see here is how the votes of the panelists are divided between panelists of the “right” the “left” and the “center” (the calculation was done by pollster and statistics professor Camil Fuchs, who helped me with the construction of the Factor project). Take a look – it is quite interesting:

                                                                                                     
Ave.RightCenterLeft
Gingrich8.529.508.817.58
Romney6.026.755.895.66
Obama4.686.353.764.50

Back in 2007, Gingrich seemed to the panel much more appealing than Romney, but even then you can see that Romney’s marks don’t change by political tendencies as much as Gingrich’s or Obama’s. On Romney the “left” and the “right” are much closer to agreement than on the other, more polarizing, candidates. And this picture hasn’t changed much, except for the fact that Romney is no longer the unknown novice and is now seems more satisfactory to our panel than both Obama and Gingrich.

More from The Israel Factor December 2011 survey – soon.

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