As college students prepare to hit the polls on November 6 - many for the first
time - they will be considering a broad array of policy issues and party
platforms. What drives young people to vote? How do they consider various
issues? Does Israel play a role in the choices they make on election day?
Campus Beat interviewed pro-Israel students on campuses across the country to
gauge the impact their support for Israel has on how they are preparing for
Election Day. Excerpts from those interviews can be seen in the side bar,
right.. In this story, we examine the role Israel-related issues is playing in
the 2012 election campaign as seen on college campuses.
latest poll of 18-29 year olds, jobs and the economy were the primary issues
young people wanted politicians to address, with education and the cost of
college taking second place on the priority list. The first issue of foreign
policy, the war in Afghanistan, came in fifth. Based on ICB’s interviews with
multiple campuses, it seems that these patterns hold true among pro-Israel young
In the 2012 election, many pro-Israel American college students do not feel that
their commitment to Israel must override their other passions. When pro-Israel
college students were asked which candidate's positions make them feel more
secure regarding Israel, many were ambivalent.
University senior John Bennet, who interns for the Romney campaign, said he
believes that Gov. Mitt Romney understands the vital importance of the US-Israel
relationship. In light of continued unrest in Libya and Egypt, Bennet said this
understanding will be crucial in the next four years.
“But regardless of
who is elected, United States foreign policy really hasn’t changed drastically
in the immediate past and I don’t anticipate that it will,” Bennet
Many students echoed Bennet's confidence that America will remain
committed to Israel's security regardless of who is elected.
Gil Troy, who teaches American history at McGill University, stated that
although some people may feel that President Barack Obama’s stance on Israel
seems less enthusiastic than some of his predecessors, it would be wrong to call
Troy noted that each time the President has said or done
something that caused some Israel supporters to question his commitment to the
Jewish state, he has responded with a reassuring move to strengthen the
For example, Troy noted, “When there is a power struggle
between Obama and Netanyahu, Obama ensures stronger military cooperation soon
But Troy had a different rationale for college students
prioritizing domestic issues over foreign policy related to Israel.
general, college students tend to be a mix of interventionist and isolationist,"
he said. "They are anti-war, anti entanglements in foreign lands and
interventionist in humanitarian causes like Darfur.”
With so many
Americans deeming Israel a peripheral issue, should supporters of the Jewish
state be concerned that the pro-Israel base is becoming less passionate about
Israel? Professor Jonathan Sarna, who teaches American Jewish history at
Brandeis University, said that this is not the case.
“Were the President
to come out against Israel, then American Jews might in significant numbers vote
for the opposing candidate,” he said. However, he continued, because pro-Israel
voters do not feel that there is a significant threat to Israel when choosing
between Romney and Obama, they do not feel they need to consider Israel's
security more than other policy issues that concern them.
voters, a key bastion of support for Israel, the candidates' policies on Israel
may not have as large a role in determining voting preferences as some people
think. According to David Harris, the president and CEO of the National Jewish
Democratic Council (NJDC), support for Israel comes 6th, 7th, and 8th on Jewish
voters' priority lists. He termed this statistic a success story, noting that
both candidates value Israel as an important ally and view protecting Israel
against Iran’s nuclear threat as a priority. For this reason, he posited,
American Jews do not feel they need to prioritize Israel as they decide which
candidate to support.
“Only a handful [of American Jews] vote on Israel
alone," Harris said, adding that other issues that figure in Jews' voting
choices include social issues and the economy.
Harris noted that many
American Jews put their concerns about social policies and the economy ahead of
their concerns about Israel.
Harris called this a “litmus test issue: It
would be a top priority if the presidential candidate came out against Israel
poll after poll.”
Representatives of the Republican Jewish Council
declined to be interviewed.
Sarna noted that some pro-Israel Americans
vote based on their views about Israeli security alone. Many of these voters, he
added, will cast their ballots for Romney.
“It will be a vote that is
more antagonistic to [Obama] than enthusiastic to the man challenging him,” he
Historically, American Jews have favored Democratic Presidential
candidates by a 3-1 margin, and among all college students the ratio is 2-1.
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