Republicans Overseas Israel promised a landslide vote for Donald Trump among Israelis with American citizenship, but exit polling last week demonstrated a much weaker showing than the campaign team predicted.
Trump’s relatively thin display among American-Israelis — a demographic that in recent years has gone solidly Republican — could portend disaster for him as voters go to the polls in the United States today.
“The underperformance in Israel is consistent with the underperformance among Jews and among Americans in general,” said Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
Republican Overseas Israel assured that Trump would win 80% of the American-Israeli vote, but he received just 49% according to the poll. Trump still beat out Clinton, who raked in 44% of the American-Israeli vote.
The exit polling was conducted by Keevon Global Research for iVoteIsrael, a get-out-the-vote organization. According to Haaretz, iVoteIsrael’s methodology has been questioned for its lack of transparency about its sample figures in light of the general dearth of data on American-Israeli voting patterns. Both the Republican and Democratic campaigns in Israel questioned the results.
The organization’s data showed a sharp drop in Republican support compared to past elections. In the organization’s 2012 exit poll, Republican candidate Mitt Romney won by a whopping 85% to Democratic incumbent Barack Obama’s 14%. In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain won 76% of the American-Israeli vote compared with Obama’s 24%.
Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, attributed the poor Republican showing among American-Israelis this year compared to elections past to fact that American-Israelis don’t fully trust or understand Trump’s position on Israel.
“I think it is the inconclusive nature of this views,” said Rosner.
As Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan Sommer noted, Trump’s Israel team waited until the end of the campaign to release a position paper, and once it did it included a disclaimer that Trump had not approved the document, but that it was assembled from positions that “have been stated, in one form or another, by Mr. Trump in various interviews or speeches given by him or on his social media accounts.”
Trump still did well among the Orthodox in Israel, with 85% of the vote. Cohen said that Trump’s success among Orthodox Israeli-Americans will likely be reflected in the United States.
“Religiosity is the most influential predictor of voting preference in America,” he said. “The results in Israel parallel those in the US.”
“It looks like Trump is getting the support essentially of some of the most Jewish Republicans,” said Cohen. “The problem for Trump is that there aren’t that many Jewish Republicans.”
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.