It’s been a while since our last Israel Factor survey, and it is time to revisit our panel and see what it thinks. The bottom line: exactly one year before the 2012 election day our experts think that US-Israel relations have not much improved, that the Democratic Jewish vote might be in some danger, that Obama is not the best candidate for Israel, but is still better than most Republican candidates, that congressional Republicans might not be as good for Israel as some people believe. And they like the idea of President Mitt Romney. Really like it.

Romney – on top of the list of favorable candidates last time – is still on top and keeps climbing. So much so that – surprise - he does even better than all-time-favorite Rudy Giuliani (Romney with 7.9, Giuliani, not a candidate but was still on the Israel Factor list for the sake of making comparisons, with 7.17). Both do better than Obama (with 7), but they are the only Republican prospective candidates to do better than the President. This makes this survey much different than the previous one, in which Obama lagged behind Gingrich, Perry and Santorum and was tied with Huntsman.

Rate the possible 2012 presidential candidates


Three things to note:

1. The previous survey was not long after the disastrous Netanyahu visit to Washington in the early summer. If you do not remember the details: Netanyahu gave a great speech in Congress, but before that, he got into public clash with President Obama over Obama’s reference of the 1967 borders in his Arab Spring speech (one article I wrote about this subject can be found here). While our panel didn’t put the blame over the clash on Obama alone, a majority did feel that Obama “made a blunder” by invoking the 1967 line. Maybe that’s why some of the panelists felt that it would be better for Israel not to have Obama as President for a second term.


2. However, what we see with the new survey is more in line with the general trend that had started earlier this year: Back in March, I wrote this about Obama and the panel:

The new Obama, the one giving up on pressuring Israel for more concessions, the one deciding that settlement freezes no longer will be the ultimate goal of American mediation of the peace process, is much more in tune with our panel’s view and beliefs (And as I’ve demonstrated recently, this panel is not a very hawkish one, but rather moderate by Israeli standards). One can add to the mix the general assumption that Obama is moving to the center on most matters, that the lesson of 2010 had been learned, and suddenly, our Israeli panel sees the American President more positively.

In early summer the “new Obama” was gone momentarily. Again, he clashed with Netanyahu, again, he surprised Israelis with an uncalled for speech. And the panel’s response was the reemergence of old suspicions. But now we’re dealing with the “new” Obama yet again. With the post-UN-speech Obama. “On one hand, Obama’s speech was captivating. On the other hand, it is hard to forget a problematic track record. So, do we believe him or not?” – I wrote back in September. Apparently, the panel wants to believe him.

3. But here’s another possible explanation for Obama’s better ranking. It is not really about the President but rather about the other candidates. In conversations I had with some of the panelists I got the impression that most of them think Romney will ultimately be the Republican nominee – and this somewhat changes their way of thinking about the candidates. It explains why Romney is suddenly doing even better than Giuliani, and why Obama is doing better than someone like Gingrich, or someone like Santorum (they did much better last time). Candidates whom the panel doesn’t believe can win lose points. Not exactly fair – this is about “good for Israel” not about “chances to win” – but it’s probably human nature to view candidates with not much hope as less favorable.

4. One last piece of information – I think it’s an important one. As I’ve explained many times in the past, I’m not at liberty to share with readers the way each of the panelists has voted. I do have the numbers, though, and can dig some additional information that is telling, such as the answer to the question which of the candidates is more unanimously acceptable and which is more polarizing. Since our panel is small, one or two participants can dramatically change a candidates’ average rank. However, one can take a closer look at the specifics and weigh these fluctuations as to make the ranking more, well, balanced.

Example: 2 panelists drive Obama’s numbers down, without them, his average would be similar to Romney’s. However, Romney is pretty much acceptable to all panelists – his lowest score by a panelist was 7 (Obama’s is 2).

Another example: Gingrich is Obama’s mirror image. Two panelists don’t like the idea of a Gingrich Presidency. If these two were eliminated from the panel, Gingrich’s score would be even higher than Romney’s.

Another example: Sarah Palin was still on this survey, even though she’s no longer a candidate. Her final score is 3.2. And the panel is pretty much in agreement – her highest score was 6, most panelists gave her a 2 or 3. Herman Cain (5.3) is a relative newcomer and the panel doesn’t feel comfortable with such unknowns (see the panel on Obama in 2007). On the other hand, his statements on all matters related to Israel have been strong. The outcome: some panelists giving him a high score but not very high (up to 8), some low but not very low (down to 3). That’s how he got to such mediocre performance with the panel.

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