American-Israeli voters slightly favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, though the support for the Republican candidate has decreased precipitously since the 2012 election, according to a poll published Thursday.
The “exit survey,” conducted among 1,140 US citizens who cast absentee ballots from Israel as well as 200 who did not vote, found that 49 percent voted for the Republican candidate, compared to 44% who voted for his Democratic rival.
“It’s pretty close, what we found here,” said pollster Mitchell Barak, who conducted the survey on behalf of I Vote Israel, a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote campaign. “If you take into account there’s a margin of error of about three percent, it’s very, very close. I wouldn’t say there is a clear winner here, although Trump has won according to this poll.”
One noteworthy result of the poll, which was conducted this week through email questionnaires, was the steep decline in support for the GOP’s candidate. In 2012, a similar I Vote Israel poll found that 85% of Israeli-American voters cast their absentee ballots for the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, compared to only 14% for President Barack Obama, the incumbent Democrat.
The 35-point drop in support for the Republican candidate was likely due, to a great extent, to a general lack of enthusiasm for Trump, Barak suggested, pointing to the high unfavorability rates of both him and Clinton. Sixty-five percent of voters said they have an unfavorable view of Trump, while 64% have that view of Clinton.
“Both candidates were equally disliked by American Israelis,” Barak said.
Only about 30,000 US citizens in Israel will have voted in next week’s election, I Vote Israel national director Eitan Charnoff estimated. That number would mean a sharp drop from four years ago, when more than 80,000 absentee ballots are believed to have been cast from Israel.
Abe Katsman from Republicans Overseas Israel harshly criticized the poll, doubting both the relatively low expected Israeli turnout and the drop in support for the GOP candidate.
“The exit poll methodology was badly flawed, both vastly undercounting the total vote and the Trump vote,” he told The Times of Israel.
Arguing that some 30,000 Israelis are believed have voted in the 2014 midterm elections, he said it was “preposterous” to claim that the same number is now voting for the presidency.
“Could the voter participation rate actually decline by 60% to 70% [from 2102]? Not even plausible,” he said.
Only 21% of the 200 respondents to the poll who said they did not vote said they refrained from casting an absentee ballot because they didn’t like either candidate. That showed that an ostensible lack of enthusiasm with either candidate wasn’t sufficient to explain such a drastic drop in Israeli voters, Katsman said.
“Also, there was a drive to get Hebrew-speaking Trump-supporting citizens to vote. But the email survey was only in English,” he added, arguing that the poll understates the number of American-Israelis who voted for the Republican candidate.
Charnoff admitted that I Vote Israel’s “efforts in 2016 were more modest than in 2012,” but insisted that his group reached “literally hundreds of thousands of people” via social media in over 40 on-the-ground voter registration events.
“At many of our events, people would go out of their way to explain to us that they think that voting is important but that they’re sitting this one out,” he said. “At the end of the day, voting is a choice, and we can only empower those who choose to make it.”
Responding to Katsman’s argument — that the fact that only 21% of US citizens who did not vote refrained because they didn’t like either candidate — Charnoff cited the very small sample size of only 197 such respondents.
“It’s no surprise that, especially toward the end of the campaign, partisan elements attack us when the facts we present are contrary to their narrative,” he said.
Another interesting finding from the poll was that a quarter of respondents who said they were registered Democrats voted for Trump. Conversely, 10% of overseas voters who are affiliated with the GOP cast their absentee ballot for Clinton.
Sixty-four percent of Israeli Trump voters said that the single most important issue that influenced their decision was US foreign policy and American policy vis-a-vis Israel. Among Clinton voters, the number was much lower — only 17%.
Asked for the main quality or primary reason for their choice, nearly half of Israeli-American voters (49%) said they wanted to prevent the election of the other party’s candidate. Only 10% cited leadership as their motivation.
Specifically, 60% of Trump voters said their choice was based on the desire to keep Clinton out of the White House. Thirty-nine percent of Democratic voters said their main motivation was to prevent a Trump presidency.
The poll also shed light on some issues not directly related to the presidential election. For instance, it found that two thirds of Israeli voters have an unfavorable view of US President Barack Obama, and 51% said they have a “very unfavorable view” of him.
Three-quarters of respondents said they opposed the nuclear agreement six world powers, led by the US, signed last year with Iran. Sixty-four percent “strongly oppose it.” Only 17% said they supported the pact, and 8% said they didn’t know.
However, when asked what the single most important issue regarding Israel’s security is, only a quarter cited the Iranian nuclear threat. Thirty-five percent said funding the Iron Dome missile defense system was most important, as opposed to 28 percent who said supporting Israel at the United Nations and fighting the anti-Israel boycott movement were the primary issues.
More than half of all Israeli overseas voters polled said the most important foreign policy issue the new president should focus on was fighting global terrorism (54%). Eighteen percent named the Iranian nuclear threat, and only 2% the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The poll also confirmed the widespread notion that American Israelis’ level of support for the Republican candidate in each election varies according to their level of religiosity.
Only 22% of respondents who defined themselves as “secular” voted for Trump, while a whopping 75% voted for Clinton. Conversely, 63% of “religious” and 85% of “ultra-Orthodox” voters chose Trump.
“You can really predict and understand someone’s vote based on how religious they define themselves,” Barak said. “The secular are more likely to vote for Democrats, the traditional might go either way. But as soon as you hit Orthodoxy and ultra-Orthodoxy, the numbers are very clear toward the Republican candidate.”