US elections

Voter-assistance group claims 85% of American voters in Israel backed Romney; Democrats dismiss survey as slanted

Absentee votes from Israel could prove significant, since several thousand Americans here cast ballots in key swing states

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

iVoteIsrael volunteers sign up US citizens for absentee ballots at a mall in Jerusalem in June 2012 (photo credit: courtesy of
iVoteIsrael volunteers sign up US citizens for absentee ballots at a mall in Jerusalem in June 2012 (photo credit: courtesy of

Tens of thousands of American citizens in Israel who voted in the US presidential elections through a a voter-assistance organization overwhelmingly chose Republican challenger Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama, according to a survey conducted by the group.

iVoteIsrael, a nonprofit that encouraged and helped Americans in Israel to register and vote, surveyed all of the approximately 80,000 voters who used its services. It said a representative sample of 1,572 of those voters showed 85 percent voted for Romney and 14.3% voted for Obama. The poll has a margin of error of 2.5%, it said.

Democrats in Israel, however, said iVoteIsrael’s survey was “slanted and extremely partial,” in part because the polling sample included only voters who cast their ballots through the organization and because it said iVoteIsrael was primarily active among more conservative-leaning Orthodox communities.

iVoteIsrael, which hosted 35 “voter assistant drives” and eight debates between Democrats and Republicans, says it is entirely nonpartisan. But the organization has come under fire for what some observers said was a pro-Romney bias in its “get out the vote” campaign. Some of its key staffers have right-wing political backgrounds, and the nonprofit behind the campaign has ties to right-leaning US-Jewish billionaire Ronald Lauder.

At a press conference announcing the findings, iVoteIsrael said similar findings to the overall results also applied in two battleground states, Ohio (84.4% for Romney) and Florida (85.8% for Romney). Its findings, it said, were based on the “only authoritative exit poll” conducted among actual voters living in Israel.

Some 80,000 US voters from 49 states submitted absentee ballots through iVoteIsrael, its national director Elie Pieprz said. “This represents an unprecedented increase in voter participation from the 20,000 or so that voted in 2008,” he said. Between 20 and 25 percent of all overseas votes in the 2012 elections will come from Israel, he said.

Votes cast from Israel could have an impact in swing states that are crucial to winning the elections, Pieprz said. Some 7,500 Americans in Israel are registered as voters in Florida, and 3,500 Americans in Israel cast absentee ballots for Ohio and another 3,500 for Pennsylvania.

Republicans in Israel hailed the findings as an indisputable sign that American in Israel reject Obama’s foreign policy and overwhelmingly favor Romney’s.

“This is very consistent with what we are anticipating,” Abraham Katsman, a counsel for Republicans Abroad Israel, said of the poll. “The 85% number is maybe even slightly higher than we expected, and probably reflects a stronger enthusiasm on the part of people who are voting either for Romney or against Obama.”

But the acting chairman of Democrats Abroad Israel, Hillel Schenker, said the results of iVoteIsrael’s polls misrepresented the true picture of Americans voting in Israel.

An I Vote Israel staff member handing in 250 absentee ballots to the US embassy (photo credit: courtesy Elie Pieprz)
An iVoteIsrael staff member handing in 250 absentee ballots to the US embassy (photo credit: courtesy Elie Pieprz)

“That’s obviously a very slanted and extremely partial version of the actual facts,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s based solely on the polling at stations that they set up. The stations that they set up are primarily in [the] Gush Etzion [settlement bloc] and Jerusalem, and other centers where there are mainly Orthodox Jews,” he added, claiming that iVoteIsrael did not place boxes for US citizens to drop off registration forms and fill out ballots in kibbutzim, for instance.

“There are many kibbutzim which have over 100 Americans,” he said.

The poll is also misleading as “most Americans living in Israel” who voted for the Democrats did not do so via iVoteIsrael and are therefore not represented in the organization’s polling sample, Schenker said. Rather, they cast their absentee ballots through the Vote from Abroad website or handed their documents directly to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, he said.

“They didn’t need iVoteIsrael,” he said.

There is no exact data on just how many Americans in Israel cast absentee ballots. iVoteIsrael’s Pieprz said he assumes that most people who voted from Israel did so via iVoteIsrael.

The iVoteIsrael survey asked other questions, too.

Almost 50% percent of respondents to the organization’s survey described themselves as national religious, while 22% said they are ultra-Orthodox.

Asked which issues were most important to them when they cast their absentee ballot, nearly two thirds responded, “Israel-related issues such as the status of Jerusalem and Palestinians.” Some 3% said healthcare was the issue that most guided their voting decision, and fewer than 1% said taxation.

Some 21% of respondents said they primarily had Iran in mind when casting their ballot.

Of those who voted primarily with Israel-related issues in mind, the proportion who voted for Romney was even higher, at 89%. Obama led only among those who cared mostly about health care, with 76%, compared to 19% for Romney.

American citizens registering to vote at an 'iVoteIsrael' event in Tel Aviv (photo credit: courtesy of
American citizens registering to vote at an ‘iVoteIsrael’ event in Tel Aviv (photo credit: courtesy of

The poll presented on Thursday was conducted by Shaviv Strategy and Campaigns, which says on its website that it is “Europe’s leading political consultancy specializing in election-campaign strategy and communications.” The company is headed by British-born Aron Shaviv, who also functioned as iVoteIsrael’s campaign strategist.

The vast majority of US Jews living in the United States traditionally vote Democrat. Recent polls suggest this trend will continue in 2012. Israelis, by contrast, apparently would favor the Republican candidate if they could vote in the US this time. According to a separate poll released Thursday, 45% of Israelis would choose Romney, while 29% said they would vote for Obama.

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