Just one in five Israeli voters believes that President Barack Obama will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, according to a new survey conducted for The Times of Israel.
Asked if they agreed with the statement, “I trust US President Barack Obama to ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon,” just 22 percent of likely Israeli voters said yes.
Fully 64% in the survey, conducted by pollster Stephan Miller of (202) Strategies, said they did not agree with the statement, and 15% said they did not know or refused to answer.
The survey also asked Israeli voters if they held a favorable view of the US president. Even among the 33% who said they did (50% said they did not), trust in Obama’s ability to stop an Iranian nuclear weapons push was split evenly at 43% to 43%.
The survey found that, as in the United States, Obama tended to do better among female voters, while male voters were more skeptical. Just 19% of males trusted the president on Iran, compared to 25% of female respondents. The most skeptical groups were male voters 55 and older (only 16% of whom agreed they could trust him on Iran) and former Soviet Union immigrants who arrived after 1989 (just 12%).
While the figures show a striking lack of faith in an American president who has vowed time and again to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, it is worth noting that Obama still fares better among Israeli likely voters, in terms of his favorability rating, than do many senior Israeli politicians who are actually dependent on those voters.
Obama’s 33% favorable rating among likely voters was higher than that given to Minister of Economics and Trade Naftali Bennett (31%), Finance Minister Yair Lapid (30%), Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan (24%), former prime minister Ehud Olmert (22%) and the perennial Likud oppositionist Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (21%).
But the American president’s figures compare less well with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 51% favorable rating.
Perhaps more surprisingly, considering the ongoing tensions between the two leaders, a large number of Israeli voters who favor Netanyahu also favor Obama, the survey found. Fully 37% of those favorable to Netanyahu, and 30% of Likud-Beytenu voters, have a favorable opinion of Obama. In the other direction, a majority, or 56%, of those favorable to Obama are also favorable to Netanyahu, and 38% give Netanyahu an “excellent” or “good” job rating as prime minister.
As might be expected, Obama does better among left-leaning Israelis — with one huge exception: Israeli Arabs.
Among self-identified ideologically “right” voters, 30% say they have a favorable view of the US president and 61% an unfavorable one, with 9% saying they “don’t know.”
Those who identify with the political “center” are warmer toward Obama, with 38% favorable and 46% unfavorable.
Among “left” voters, the story gets more complicated, even as Obama’s favorability rating generally rises. Overall, the American leader enjoys 42% favorable to 35% unfavorable ratings among the self-identified “left,” but a surprising 23% say they “don’t know.”
To understand that figure, it’s important to note that the “left” in Israel is not homogeneous, but includes many voters who define themselves less by their political ideology than by their heritage. They are Arab Israelis.
To ensure a more accurate sample, 10.2% of those interviewed in the survey were interviewed in Arabic, and 15% in Russian. (This, along with 29% of interviews being conducted via cellphone, makes the survey sample a more accurate one than in any other publicly available political survey.)
When factoring in the language spoken by respondents, the origin of those indecisive left-leaning voters becomes clear. Among Hebrew-speaking voters, just 13% declined to express an opinion of Obama. Among Russian-speaking voters, 18%. But among Arabic-speaking voters, fully 45% did not express an opinion. Among those Arab Israeli voters who did express an opinion, Obama’s favorability was just 11%, compared to 44% unfavorable.
Put another way, among Arab Israelis that share an opinion of Obama, just 20% are favorable and a whopping 80% are unfavorable to him.
Still, while Israeli voters express overwhelming distrust of Obama on Iran, the issue itself has declined in importance, which may help to explain his relatively high favorability despite the distrust.
In last year’s Times of Israel survey of likely voters, respondents were asked which of six key issues was most important for Israel’s government to address: economic issues such as the cost of living and price of housing, the deterioration of relations with the Palestinians, education, the Iranian threat, enlisting the ultra-Orthodox in the army and workforce, and the instability of countries in the surrounding region. Last year, just 12% of likely voters said the Iranian threat was the most important issue. This year, that number collapsed to just 6% of likely voters. Among voters favorable to Obama it shrank further, to just 2%.
The survey was conducted December 26-31 among a representative sample of 802 Israeli adults who had voted in the past or were too young to vote in the previous election but are eligible to vote now. 70.8% of completed calls were directed to landline home phones and 29.1% to mobile phones, helping to compensate for the high percentage of 18-34-year-olds who do not have regular landline phones. 10.2% of respondents were Arabic speakers surveyed in Arabic, and 15.6% were Russian speakers surveyed in Russian. The findings are rounded to the nearest whole digit. The margin of error is +/-3.5% with a 95% confidence level.
This is the first in a series of articles that The Times of Israel is publishing this week on the basis of the poll. The survey was formulated by The Times of Israel and the author, from political consultancy firm (202) Strategies, with field work conducted by Shvakim Panorama. Our survey is the most accurate publicly available poll to date, having questioned a relatively large sample of 802 likely voters — as opposed to the Hebrew media’s norm of 500 eligible voters.
Stephan Miller, cited by Campaigns and Elections magazine in 2008 as “James Carville’s young protege,” is an American-Israeli public opinion research analyst and communications strategist and a former adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat who has worked on campaigns in nine countries across four continents.