On the election map, the State of Israel is not just blue and white; it is solidly red.
The Presidential election results are in. Well, at least the votes from Americans in Israel. Not one to keep readers in suspense, I’ll reveal the most important numbers up front: Gov. Mitt Romney received 85%–85%!–of the vote; President Obama managed only 14.3%. This, according to exit polling just released by iVoteIsrael, the non-partisan group promoting and facilitating voting by U.S. citizens currently in Israel. Their statistics reveal some fascinating results. More importantly, these results have implications for the outcome of next week’s election. (Again, not to keep you in suspense: those implications favor the Republicans.)
First, that 85% should be seen in a broader perspective. Israel has become a “red state” through such a solidly Republican vote. In fact, if Israel were in the United States, it would be the “reddest” state in the entire country. Redder, even, than Utah, or Wyoming or Oklahoma. Significantly redder. That should be a startling development for the Democrats, who once owned the pro-Israel vote.
Second, that 14% for Obama is 40% lower than the vote he received from Israel in 2008. That should worry his campaign. Even if his support in the Jewish community in America has eroded by only half that much, he may have trouble clearing the 60% mark. An interesting historical note: for almost a century, every Republican candidate who received 30% or more of the Jewish vote was victorious–and it looks like Romney will win well over 30%.
Third, the total vote from Israel–80,000 ballots–is huge. That’s about 25% of all ballots cast from all expat communities combined, which together have 20 times as many Americans as Israel has. It also represents 50% of eligible voters in Israel, a participation rate fully ten times that of Americans in the rest of the world. That’s an incredible rate considering the cumbersome process of registration and absentee ballot application and mailing faced by each individual Israel-based voter. It’s also more than double the number of ballots ever cast before from Israel.
That suggests that the Israel-based voters–who overwhelmingly voted Romney–were unusually highly motivated to vote. Compare that to the 5% participation rate in the rest of the world–voters who lean towards Obama–and quite a contrast emerges between the relative levels of motivation to vote between supporters of each candidate. This appears to be an extreme example something U.S. polls now show: higher motivation to vote corresponds to higher likelihood of voting for Romney. And motivation correlates with turnout. That is a doubly good sign for Republicans.
Not surprisingly, the primary motivating issues in the Israel-based vote are Israel-related issues, such as candidates’ policies on Israeli defense and security, the American-Israeli relationship, the status of Jerusalem, the peace process, and policies regarding Iran and its nuclear program. 82% of respondents considered such issues most important, and 88% of those voted for Romney. If voters with such concerns so heavily favor Romney among Israel-based Americans, there may be a corresponding higher-than-expected Romney vote among U.S.-based voters concerned with the same issues.
A fourth interesting takeaway from the data is that even though the Israel-based electorate is pretty evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, huge numbers of Democrats apparently crossed over to vote for Romney. On top of that, it seems that Obama has “reverse coattails”–even in Congressional and Senate races, 68% of Israel-based voters cast ballots for the Republican.
In fact, among those who still voted for Congressional Democrats, half cast their Presidential ballots for Romney. That may be a bad omen for Obama’s ability to hold onto pro-Israel Democrats in America. We in Israel already saw developing anecdotal evidence of this Democratic defection, highlighted by the very public endorsement of Romney by the former Chair of Democrats Abroad Israel, and former Obama voters working the Romney phone banks.
Fifth, there was heavy participation from swing states. 7,500 Israel-based Floridians voted; another 3,500 voted in Ohio; and 3,500 more voted in Pennsylvania. Those numbers themselves could prove significant, but they have additional impact: Americans in Israel have a unique, front-row perspective on how any President’s Israel policies are working out. As a result, their opinions on the respective candidates’ policies have extra credibility. And those Israel-based Americans all have friends, family and communities back home. If the vote from the front-row is so lopsidedly for Romney, that can only mean one thing for the direction it will influence the vote back in America.
What does it all mean? In the short-run, this is all great news for Romney and the Republicans. But in the longer run, it is healthier for both Israel and America when strong pro-Israel support is solidly bipartisan. Such a one-sided vote as we just had means that something is out of whack. In fact, several high-profile Democrats have complained that Israel support is becoming a partisan, Republican issue.
This vote, however, highlights what those complaining Democrats are missing. It’s not that the Republicans have somehow driven a wedge between the Democrats and the pro-Israel community; it’s that the Democrats, led by President Obama, have drifted far enough away from their once-solid support of Israel that even life-long Democrats are crossing the aisle.
Here in Israel, of course, support for a strong American-Israeli relationship is very much a bipartisan issue. That’s why, across the political spectrum of Americans in Israel, Republicans and Democrats alike are voting for Mitt Romney for President. 85% of them.
Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Israel. He serves as Counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.