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January 24, 2013

Israel Factor: Why is Democratic support for Israel weaker than Republican support?

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

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I've written a couple of times in recent weeks about the well-known gap between Democratic and Republican voters in their support for Israel. This large gap has been in existence for quite some time now, and comes up in every poll which examines the way Americans think about Israel. So, while American support for Israel is generally very high – and has been for a long time – this support is not evenly shared between Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Here's one recent PEW poll demonstrating the gap:

 

So one of the questions we presented our distinguished Israel Factor panel – a group of 10 Israeli experts that gives us a monthly group-take on US-Israel relations – was the following: "Many recent polls have proved time and again that Democratic voters support Israel in much smaller percentages than Republican voters. Look at the following possible reasons for this 'Israel gap' and rank from 1 (not a factor) to 10 (a great factor) the reasons you think contribute to it". We asked the panel to rank seven optional explanations, among which were Israel's policies, Evangelical influence and American Jewish reluctance. Of course, you can see all the details of the new Israel Factor survey here (make sure to check the stats page). But the main headlines coming out of this attempt to understand the gap are as follows:

The panel believes the polls- it believes that the gap is not imaginary. The score for "the polls are just wrong" is so low – 1.87 out of 10 – that it barely registered. Having agreed that there's a gap though, one has to explain it, and there are two main groups of explanations:

  1. Explanations which cite Israel's actions as the main driver of the gap.
  2. Explanations which view the gap as unrelated to Israel's policies and behavior.

Interestingly, each one of the two highest scoring statements belongs to a different group:

"Israel's policies are more in line with Republican ideals" (6.78 out of 10) is the ultimate explanation for those panelists who believe that it is Israel's behavior – right or wrong – that makes the difference; "Evangelical support among Republicans makes the difference" (6.67) is the more common explanation among those who believe that internal forces within the US are the main driver of the gap.

Of course, completely disconnecting one from the other is impossible: Maybe Israel's policies are more in line with Evangelical ideals and hence the Evangelical support that impacts the Republican Party. Or maybe the policies are more in line with Republican ideals not because Israel is different these days but because the party is different (due to Evangelical support). Whatever one thinks, it is interesting to note that our panelists generally agree that these are the two main drivers of the gap (from the list we presented them with) and that there's not much difference between the scores given by "Democratic-leaning" and "Republican leaning" panelists (for more about the meaning of "leaning" in this context, read here).

It is also interesting to note that, despite all the inane media chatter about the "Netanyahu supported Romney" myth, our panel doesn't buy into the notion that "Israel shows preference for Republican candidates and Democratic voters don't like it". This statement scored 4.33 out of 10, and while there is a slight variety of opinion among the panelists about this issue – one panelists gave this statement as high as 8, while most others gave it something much closer to 4 – one can't attribute this variety of opinion to political tendencies. These are just differences in the estimation of the main factors that are pushing Democrat voters away from Israel.

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