Israel Factor, 2016 rankings: If we must have a Republican, then Christie, Bush, Romney

September 22, 2014

Our Israel Factor ranking of the top 2016 candidates – we did not have time to include Sen. Bernie Sanders this time – has not changed much in recent months. Hillary Clinton is still the highest ranked candidate of the group. Her recent comments on Israel, distancing her from what our panel sees as the mediocre foreign policy of the Obama administration, and playing a hawkish tune (for a Democratic candidate) on the Gaza war and Israel's relations with the Palestinians, obviously did not hurt her.

She is not alone at the top. Andrew Cuomo is tied with Clinton (7.9 out of 10 possible points on our traditional “good for Israel” question). Cory Booker (7.7) is not far behind. Vice President Joe Biden also gets the consistent and impressive approval of our panel (7.6). Often viewed as a hawkish panel (we have always denied that), the Israel Factor group of experts has a definite tilt toward the potential Democratic candidates for 2016. This was not the case in 2012, when the panel – at least in the early stages of the race – much preferred Republican candidates over Obama. This was not the case in 2008. Our panel used to rank some of the Republican candidates higher. But in the 2016 cycle, up until now, Democratic candidates are doing better with the panel.

There are many reasons for this. One of them is the seemingly more polarized view the current panel has of the current prospective candidates (our panel has not changed much, but it has changed a little; the list of candidates has changed, of course). Why polarized? Because the US has more polarized politics, because some of the issues invite polarized views (in a previous analysis we presented this in detail in reference to several foreign policy items), and, possibly, because the view of some of our panel members has become more rigid. 

There is a way to weigh the votes of the panelists in a fashion that would somewhat reduce the impact of outlier rankings on the average rank of each candidate (we have weighted Israel Factor surveys before, as you can see here, in our very first Factor survey from 2006). We did it with this survey with the intention of seeing how the ranking changes for Republican candidates compared to Democratic candidates. It does: look at a group of six leading candidates, and see how a weighted average puts the Republican candidates back in the game.





Hillary Clinton

7. 9


Joe Biden

7. 6


Chris Christie



Jeb Bush



Mitt Romney



Note the following things:

1. Hillary Clinton also gains when the impact of polarization is reduced. That is, because most of the panel likes her as a candidate and the weighing eliminates the impact of marginal, yet strong, disapproval of a small number of panelists.

2. Republican candidates gain even more, because there is a tendency of a small group of panelists to be very harsh in its view of almost all Republican candidates. When the impact of this harsh, and untypical, ranking is lessened, Republican candidates such as Christie, Bush, and Romney rise.

3. The weighing process makes a meaningful change only with those candidates that the panel is generally positive about, and that suffer disproportionally from the very low grades given by very few panelists (usually one, sometimes two). In the case of this group, we see that the weighing elevates mostly candidates that the panel sees as “moderate” Republicans.

4. When we weigh candidates such as Ted Cruz and Rick Perry, it does not make much change (Cruz from 6.1 to 6.4, Perry from 6.3 to 6.6). The exception to the rule is Marco Rubio. He does not fit the “moderate” tag, but when we weigh his numbers it moves him from a 6.4 to a 7, and fairly close to the leading pack of the Factor ranking. 

5. In Israel Factor surveys leading to 2008, Barack Obama was often ranked last or second to last by our panel, up until the very end of the primary season – just months before Election Day. In the 2016 Israel Factor, the role of least-liked is saved for Rand Paul. Either our panel hasn’t received the memo on Paul's resurrection (or “evolution“) as an internationalist, or it doesn't believe in Paul's sincerity. In any case, weighing does not change his low ranking (4.1).

6. It is always interesting to compare the preferences of the panel with the lists that attempt to project the viability of the candidates. The list by Greg Valliere puts Bush on top, followed by Rubio, Paul, Cruz and Romney. Sabato says: no “first tier”. Bush, Rand, Ryan are second tier, Rubio and Cruz lead a third tier. In the RCP average of the scattered polls, Christie is still leading, followed by Bush, Paul, Ryan and Cruz.

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