US Support for Israel Is at a Record High
When Pew released a study on American attitudes toward the Middle East, the focus was on the partisan divide and the suggestion that Democrats were abandoning Israel.
Pew is certainly a credible organization; nevertheless, I trust Gallup more, because it has been asking the same questions for decades, and its data tracks more closely with qualitative observations. In Gallup’s latest survey, support for Israel was at a record high — and Democratic support was on the upswing.
Interestingly, if you look at the average of Pew and Gallup polls, support for Israel and the Palestinians is nearly identical. For Pew, sympathy for Israel is 47% and for the Palestinians, it is 13%. For Gallup, the results are 48% for Israel and 13% for the Palestinians.
Pew, however, has only done 25 polls — while Gallup has conducted 83. Support for Israel in the Gallup poll has exceeded 60% since 2010, while the record high for Pew is 54%. In 2018, Pew found support for Israel was only 46%, just one point better than its first poll in 1993. By contrast, support for Israel in the Gallup poll was 64%, tying the all-time high first recorded during the 1991 Gulf War and equaled in 2013.
Neither company found much support for the Palestinians — 16% in the Pew survey, and 19% in Gallup. To further emphasize the chasm in support for the Palestinians compared to Israel, Gallup found that 74% of Americans view Israel favorably, a 17-year high, while 71% have an unfavorable opinion of the Palestinian Authority.
And what about the partisan gap and the decline of Democratic support for Israel?
In Pew, the results were dramatic. Only 27% of Democrats sympathized with Israel, a decline of 11 points since 2001, and 25% sympathized with the Palestinians. By comparison, Republicans favor Israel over the Palestinians 79%-6%. The partisan divide on Israel of 52 points is more than double what it was as recently as 2006.
The partisan gap is 38 points in the Gallup poll, with a record high of 87% of Republicans siding with Israel, compared with 49% of Democrats. That’s a significant difference from Pew’s finding. In addition to the fact that 22% more Democrats support Israel according to Gallup, that figure increased from 42% in 2001. As in the Pew study, only 6% of Republicans sympathize with the Palestinians in Gallup’s poll, but an even higher number of Democrats side with the Palestinians — 31% — up from 17% in 2001.
As I wrote last year, the belief that Democrats were once overwhelmingly sympathetic to Israel and that Republicans were not is a myth. More Republicans than Democrats supported Israel as far back as 1975, and, on average, only 45% of Democrats have sympathized with Israel compared to 64% of Republicans. In fact, of the 44 polls for which I found data going back to January 1975, Republican sympathy exceeded that of Democrats in all but one poll (they tied at 40% in April 1975).
It is also worth noting that in this time of weakening party identification, Independents have become more sympathetic to Israel. In 2001, 51% of Independents sided with Israel; in 2018, the figure was 59%.
Another positive result in the Gallup poll was the finding that 50% of Americans believe that the US should put more pressure on the Palestinians than on the Israelis to resolve the conflict. A decade ago, Americans were more divided.
A lot of concern has been expressed about young people turning on Israel, but I have also argued that this idea is not supported by the data. If you look at the 2018 sympathy question, there is no difference in support (59%) between the youngest group (18-34) and the middle range (35-54), but the oldest cohort (55+) is far more pro-Israel (71%). On this question, the youngest group is 7 points more sympathetic toward the Palestinians, but only 21% sided with them.
Young people are typically less sympathetic to Israel; however, as they grow older, their views resemble those of the previous generation. If you compare data from the 1970s, support for Israel among young Americans today is significantly higher. Forty years ago, for example, 47% of young Americans sympathized with Israel. Those people would be in the oldest cohort today, which is overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Past trends do not guarantee the future, but they should temper some of the apocalyptic forecasts of America turning on Israel.
Despite the perception of anti-Israel media bias, criticism of Israel by presidents, intifadas, settlements and all the rest of the negative associations with Israel, Gallup surveys indicate that American support for Israel has been increasing since the 1960s. Nevertheless, a perception remains in the Jewish world that Israel’s standing is on a downward slope in the United States and elsewhere.
Mark Twain once said, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” — so you are welcome to dismiss all this data. If you are prone to pessimism, Pew has the results for you. I am optimistic and see objective evidence in US policy, Congressional votes, the rejection of BDS and other indicators that lead me to believe that Gallup’s surveys better reflect the American public’s broad-based support for Israel.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and author/editor of 24 books including “The Arab Lobby” and the novel “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”