YOUNGSTOWN — Israeli journalists’ Tuesday visit to the Mahoning County Board of Elections reminded that all eyes are on the bellwether state of Ohio in this presidential election.
Yaron Deckel is a political analyst for KAN 11, a state-owned but independently run Israeli broadcaster similar to the BBC. On Tuesday he interviewed a handful of early voters after casting their ballots at the county’s Oak Hill Avenue elections offices.
“Israel and the United States are in a long-time close relationship. We consider the U.S. the closest and most supportive ally in the world,” Deckel told reporters Tuesday. “We have a great interest in what’s going on here in the presidential election.”
Deckel said KAN 11 is interested to hear voter sentiment in Midwestern swing states like Ohio — but especially interested in Ohio’s reputation for picking the president in every presidential election since 1964.
Though Mahoning County went to Hillary Clinton by an about 3-point margin in the 2016 presidential election, Trump carried the state by a little more than 8-point margin.
“Maybe from here, we can know who is the next president of the United States,” Deckel said.
The several Mahoning voters Deckel exit-polled Tuesday — all of whom readily offered their presidential pick to Deckel — were evenly split on the presidential ballot.
One man told Deckel he believes Republican President Donald Trump will win re-election, and said he voted for Trump because he brought jobs to Youngstown.
One young woman, a first-time voter, said she voted for Democratic Vice President Joe Biden based largely on advice from her father, a long-time Democrat. She said she wasn’t familiar with Biden’s platform.
Another woman said she voted for Trump for “a couple different reasons,” though she kept those to herself. She also voted for Trump in 2016, she said. She told Deckel the most important issue to her was “all the things he’s done around the world.”
When Deckel asked her about the Trump administration’s perceived mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the woman said she’d be willing to give him a pass because it was something “no one’s experienced before.”
Deckel asked: then who’s to blame? Nobody, she replied — “accidents happen.”
One Youngstown man told Deckel he voted for Biden because “we got a guy who’s president who shouldn’t even be president.” Though others told Deckel they backed Trump for improving the economy, this man said he’d rather have “peace of mind and less division than more jobs.”
“It depends on what you want,” the man told Deckel. “If you value money and jobs over human lives, go with Trump. If you’ve got any kind of humanity in you, vote for Biden.”
Deckel said he was surprised by that answer, and plans to include it in his piece, which is set to air later today.
“I was trying to understand what’s in their minds when they come to the polls and vote … trying to understand the American way of thinking,” he said. “We know ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ but now we have the [COVID-19] epidemic, and this administration didn’t manage the epidemic very well.”
Tom McCabe, deputy elections director, said the office expects nearly 70,000 Mahoning County ballots to be cast before Election Day, either through early or absentee voting. This year, they seem more eager to tell you why they’re voting, he said.
“The voters you’re seeing coming here, they’re coming here for one reason, and that’s the president,” he said. “Most of them aren’t afraid to say why they’re here, either for Trump or against Trump or for Biden. They’re very vocal about it.”
When asked by McCabe how Israelis received President Trump’s relocation of the Israel’s U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Deckel, a Tel Aviv resident, said it was widely supported.
“Many of [Trump’s] predecessors declared and promised to do it but never did — including very friendly presidents to the State of Israel,” he said. “He was the first one to promise it and keep his word.”
For Deckel’s viewers, his piece is also an insight into the American election process — something most Israelis “do not understand,” he said. Unlike the U.S., Israel doesn’t have an electoral college; it also has a multi-party system.
McCabe said the Mahoning elections board in 2016 hosted TV cameras from Germany, Sweden and Japan — and the Japanese returned this year, he added. However. it's the first time Israeli journalists have tried to pick Ohio voters' brains. He said he enjoys hearing foreign takes on the American election system.
“I think many Israelis do not really know Biden and President Trump is more popular than Biden [in Israel],” Deckel said. “So, I think if you ask the Israelis, they would prefer President Trump continue — including the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
“But, as I know, Mr. Biden is also a good partner of Israel. He knows Israel very well. He will take a different path than Trump — but it doesn’t mean that Vice President Biden is not friendly with state officials,” Deckel said.
“If you look at the polls, most Israelis will say, ‘Trump for a second term’.”