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U.S.-Israel Relations: American Public Opinion Toward Israel

by Mitchell Bard (March 2018)

Support for Israel is not restricted to the Jewish community. Americans of all ages, races and religions sympathize with Israel. This support is also nonpartisan.

The best indication of Americans’ attitude toward Israel is found in the response to the most consistently asked question about the Middle East: “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with Israel or with the Arab nations?” The organization that has conducted the most surveys is Gallup. In the most recent poll, reported by Gallup in March 2018, 64% sympathized with Israel, equalling the all-time high, and the ninth straight year support exceeded 60%. This exceeds the level of support (56%) Israel enjoyed after the 1967 war, when many people mistakenly believe that Israel was overwhelmingly popular. Meanwhile, only 19% expressed support for the Palestinians only slightly higher than the 15% in Gallup’s initial 1988 measurement.

In recent years Gallup has noted that many Americans have moved from “no preference” into the pro-Israeli column. Even when support for Israel dips, as occurred during Operation Protective Edge (July 8-August 26, 2014), when the NBC/WSJ and Pew polls found a decline in support to 46% and 51%, respectively, support for the Palestinians does not increase (it was 14% in both polls). Moreover, support for Israel inevitably bounces back.

In 89 Gallup polls going back to 1967, Israel has had the support of an average of 48% of the American people compared to 13% for the Arab states/Palestinians. The results are similar (48%-12%) when all 255 polls asking similar questions are included. Americans have slightly more sympathy for the Palestinians than for the Arab states, but the results of polls asking respondents to choose between Israel and the Palestinians have not differed significantly from the other surveys.

Overall, support for Israel has been on the upswing since 1967. In the 1970s, the average level of support for Israel was 44%, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was 47%, including the record highs during the Gulf War. Since 2000, support for Israel is averaging 51%. In the 43 polls conducted during President Obama's term from multiple sources, support for Israel soared to an average 55%, continuing an upward trend since the 1980s, while sympathy for the Palestinians sank to 12%, continuing a downward spiral that began during the George W. Bush administration. In the three polls since Donald Trump assumed office, support for Israel has increased to an average of 57%. On average, in all polls, Israel is favored by more than 4 to 1.

These polls are expected to be very sensitive to current events; however, Operation Protective Edge notwithstanding, that has genearally not been the case. Gallup reported in early August 2014: “Despite the vividness of news and social media images emanating from the conflict in the Middle East [that were mostly unflattering toward Israel], Americans' attention to the conflict and their attitudes about the actions on both sides have remained remarkably unchanged compared with...results from the period of Israeli-Palestinian violence 12 years ago.”

One disturbing trend relates to the divergence between Republican and Democratic support for Israel. In the March 2018 Gallup poll, for example, 87% of Republicans, 59% of independents and 49% of Democrats sympathized with Israel. While some commentators have suggested support among Democrats has been declining over time, the truth is that it is largely unchanged since the 1970s. There is a general misperception that Democratic support for Israel was historically much higher than Republican sympathy. That was never true and the shift has really been in the dramatic increase in Republican support for Israel.

Gallup also takes regular polls on world affairs. Overall favorable ratings of Israel in March 2018 were at a 17-year high of 74%, the fifth straight year above 70%. By contrast, just 21% of Americans had a favorable opinion of the Palestinian Authority. In 2015, Israel's favorability ranking trailed only Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, France and India. The PA in 2015 was rated just above Pakistan (15%), Iraq (15%), Afghanistan (14%), Syria (14%), Iran (11%) and North Korea (9%) as the least popular countries.

Since 1998, roughly three-fourths of respondents have said the United States should take neither side in the conflict, but those who do pick a side overwhelmingly choose Israel (29% vs. 3% for the Palestinians' side in the University of Maryland's December 2015 survey). Since 2007, an increasing number of Americans favor pressuring the Palestinians to make the necessary compromises for peace than the Israelis. In Gallup's March 2018 poll, 50% favored more pressure on the Palestinians while only 27% said the U.S. should put more pressure on the Israelis. More than three-fourths of Americans also believe Palestinian-Israeli peace is somewhat or very important to the United States.

Polls also indicate the public views Israel as a reliable U.S. ally, a feeling that grew stronger during the Gulf crisis. In May 2011, CNN found that 82% of Americans believed Israel is “friendly” or an “ally.” In 2013, ADL reported that 75% of the respondents considered Israel a “close ally” or “Friendly/not close ally.”

See also:

American Attitudes Toward the Middle East

Gallup Polls Only (1967-2012)

American Sympathy Toward Israel/Arabs/Palestinians

American Jewish College Student Survey (2011)

Palestinian Homeland Polls

Public Attitudes Toward the Peace Process

Public Opinion Toward Foreign Aid