JERUSALEM (JTA) — More Americans in Israel voted for Donald Trump than for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, but the number of Republican votes plummeted from four years ago, according to a poll released Thursday.
Trump, the Republican candidate, received 49 percent of the vote, and Clinton, the Democrat, had 44 percent, the survey found. Keevoon Global Research conducted the survey on behalf of iVote Israel, a nonprofit organization that helps Americans vote from Israel.
The survey, touted as the first overseas “exit poll,” showed a more than 35 percent drop in support for the Republican nominee since the previous presidential election. Eighty-five percent of Americans in Israel voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, iVote Israel found at the time.
Like their fellow citizens who live in the United States, Americans in Israel had a low opinion of both candidates, according to the survey: 65 percent disapproved of Trump and 64 percent disapproved of Clinton. Forty-nine percent of respondents said their vote was motivated primarily by the “danger” of the other candidate. Only 10 percent cited leadership as their motivation.
“The most important finding is how unpopular both the candidates are,” Keevoon head Mitchell Barak told JTA. “There is definitely a lot less interest in this election here based on who the candidates are.”
According to Eitan Charnoff, the national director of iVote Israel, the lack of enthusiasm led to a massive decrease in voter turnout. Charnoff said only some 30,000 Americans in Israel cast ballots this year, compared to the estimated 80,000 who voted in 2012. Republicans Overseas Israel, the main GOP group in the country, estimated the turnout this year at 120,000, up from 80,000 four years ago.
“The poll demonstrates that the American voter in Israel is a dynamic voter, and we shouldn’t rush to stereotype and assume they’re all gonna vote in one direction,” Charnoff told JTA. “This is obviously a dramatic shift from 2012.”
Between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, the 35-question survey was sent to iVote Israel’s database of email addresses collected since 2012. Charnoff declined to reveal the size of the database but said the response rate was “very good.” The results are based on the answers of the 1,140 respondents who said they voted and were registered to do so. The margin of error is 3 percent.
The survey does not necessarily reflect the overall American vote from Israel, according to Barak. The sample was self-selected, not random , and because there is no reliable data on Americans in Israel, it was impossible to weight the results. Also, he noted, many haredi Orthodox voters do not have email addresses and thus were not reached by the survey. Still, he said the sample size was large enough to allow for some conclusions.
Twenty-seven percent of respondents identified as Republicans and 33 percent said they were Democrats.
Religious affiliation was a major factor in voting, according to the survey. Sixty-three percent of self-identified Orthodox respondents and 85 percent of “ultra-Orthodox” ones voted for Trump. Seventy-five percent of “secular” and 54 percent of “traditional” respondents voted for Clinton. A large plurality of respondents, 43 percent, said Israel and foreign policy concerns had the most influence on how they voted.
Voters deposited federal election ballots in iVote Israel drop boxes in 11 Israeli cities and towns. The group then took them to the U.S. Embassy, which sent them to election boards in the United States. According to the survey, voters were registered in New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas. Thirty-five percent voted in New York alone.
Some voters complained that they did not receive their ballots in time to vote or at all, with some even accusing iVote Israel, which is said to be right leaning, of intentionally suppressing votes.
Charnoff, who is adamant that iVote Israel is nonpartisan under his leadership, pointed out that absentee balloting is problematic around the world. He said his group did its part in the voting process, and that despite greater voter engagement this year, there were fewer complaints about voting issues than in 2012.
(With reporting by Briefs Editor Marcy Oster.)