Memo to Candidates: Want a Bump in the Polls? Try MidEast Peace

Despite the acknowledged centrality of Arab-Israeli peace to U.S. interests and Middle East stability, the recently convened peace conference in Annapolis drew scant attention from the sixteen Democratic and Republican party candidates for president. Only a few offered comments, and then only when asked. On CNN’s "Late Edition," Republican Mike Huckabee protested that Israel shouldn’t be pressured to give back the West Bank since the Arabs already have too much land, while on the day of the Annapolis meetings, Senator Chris Dodd, again on CNN, was supportive of the effort, but criticized the Bush Administration for having neglected the process for seven years.

This benign neglect of Middle East peace was in keeping with the drift of the 2008 campaign to date. Candidates will only address the issue when called upon to do so, this usually occurring when they have spoken before Jewish or Arab American audiences, or have been challenged at a public campaign event. Republicans, for the most part (the exception being Ron Paul), have expressed hostility to peace-making efforts (taking a harder line than even the most hardened neo-conservative), while most Democrats, after faulting Bush Administration neglect of the peace process, will promise to do better.

With a month left before the Iowa caucuses and the nation’s first primary in New Hampshire, new polls in both states suggest that candidates looking for a bump in their polling numbers, might want to consider altering their strategy.

A Zogby International poll, conducted during the first week in December in Iowa and New Hampshire, establishes that voters in both states believe that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important goal for U.S. foreign policy, and indicate that they would be more likely to support a candidate "who pledged to do everything possible to promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis." (The poll in Iowa surveyed 514 Republican and 514 Democratic likely caucus goers, and had a margin of error of /- 4.4%. In New Hampshire, 500 Republican and 502 Democratic likely primary voters were polled, with a margin of error of /- 4.5%.)

The support for these two propositions is bipartisan. In Iowa, for example, one-third of both Democrats and Republicans are more likely to support candidates who promote Israeli-Palestinian peace, against only two percent of Democrats and eight percent of Republicans who would be less likely to support such a candidate. For six in ten, it makes no difference.

At the same time, three-quarters of Democrats and Republicans agree "that a two state solution, providing peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians should be an important goal for U.S. foreign policy." This is the same for both Republicans and Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Equally interesting, strong support for these two propositions cuts across all component groups of the electorate, with even traditionally conservative groups, like born-again Christians and veterans, holding identical views with groups normally identified on the liberal and progressive end of the spectrum.

Reflecting this dominant mood in the electorate, a group of Iowans calling themselves Concerned Iowans for Middle East Peace (CIMEP), have pledged to caucus for candidates who will take a simple pledge, which reads: "If elected President, I will do everything possible to promote negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to achieve peace and security for Israel and a secure and contiguous state for the Palestinians." To date, some 2,000 Iowans have endorsed this CIMEP position. Of the candidates, only Dennis Kucinich has directly signed the pledge, while Barack Obama and Bill Richardson have taken positions compatible with the CIMEP pledge.

As the days wind down toward the early January Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary election, candidates looking for an added edge might consider a strong embrace of Middle East peace. With Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious days converging during late December, speaking of peace in the Holy Land is a theme that can resonate with many. And as these polling numbers demonstrate, support for Israeli-Palestinian peace comes with a strong upside and no downside.