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 February 2019, 59% sympathized with Israel, a five point drop from the previous year when it tied the all-time high. It was the lowest level since 2009. This still exceeds the level of support (56%) Israel enjoyed after the 1967 war, when many people mistakenly believe that Israel was overwhelmingly popular. Support for the Palestinians was a record high, but still only 21%.
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 88 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 251 polls (beginning in 1967) 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 54%. 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 four polls since Donald Trump assumed office, support for Israel has increased to an average of 58%. 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.”
Support for Israelis and the Palestinians differs dramatically based on party and ideology. In the February 2019 Gallup poll, 76% of Republicans, 60% of independents and 43% 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. In 45 Gallup polls dating to 1975, the average support for Republicans is 64% and 45% for Democrats. Support for the Palestinians among Democrats is nearly double that of Republicans (18%-10%).
The February 2019 Gallup poll also found a dramatic difference in support for Israel and the Palestinians between conservatives (76%-11%, moderates (43%-30%) and liberals (43%-30%). This is consistent with the general view that liberals have become more critical of Israel and supportive of the Palestinians while the opposite is true of conservatives.
There was an equally marked difference among respondents in different age groups – 18-34 (47%-29%), 35-54 (57%-21%) and 55+ (70%-15%). This is less surprising as older Americans have historically been more sympathetic to Israel. Some are alarmed when they see the disparity; however, if past trends persist, the youngest people today will likely become more sympathetic over time.
Americans who are more religious in terms of attending services are much more likely to be pro-Israel. Frank Newport, a senior scientist at Gallup analyzed the impact of religiosity on attitudes toward Israel. He analyzed data from 2001-2014 and 2015-2019 and found that “66% and 71% of those who attended religious services weekly or almost weekly said their sympathies were with Israel rather than the Palestinians while the figures for those who never attended services were 46% and 49%.
Partisan identity, however, has a more significant impact. “Even the least religious Republicans are significantly more positive about Israel than the most religious Democrats,” according to Newport. More dramatically, 85% of highly religious Republicans sympathize with Israel compared to 55% of highly religious Democrats.
Newport did not look at the religiosity of Jews, but he did find that partisan differences were not relevant. Despite the fact that “Jewish Americans are more than three times as likely to identify as Democrats as Republicans,” and that “Democrats are much less sympathetic than Republicans are to Israel.” From 2001-2014, 93% of Jews were sympathetic toward Israel and only 2% toward the Palestinians. From 2015-2019, the figures were 86% and 7%. Newport concluded the drop in support for Israel was “not of analytical significance.”
Protestants also have above-average sympathy for Israel, with 70% saying they are sympathetic to Israel and 13% to the Palestinians. By comparison about 60% of Catholics and 43% of people with no religious identity sympathize with Israel.
Gallup does not measure “evangelicals” separately, but Newport estimates their views by isolating white, highly religious Protestants. This group’s support for Israel, 87%, mirrors that of Jews.
Favorability and Alliance
Gallup also takes regular polls on world affairs. Overall favorable ratings of Israel in February 2019 were 69%, down from the 17-year high of 74% in 2018. By contrast, just 21% of Americans had a favorable opinion of the Palestinian Authority, unchanged from the previous year. In 2019, Israel ranked eighth in favorability trailing Canada (92%), Great Britain (87%), Japan (86%), Germany (83%), France (81%), India (72%) and South Korea (71%). The PA was ranked just above Afghanistan (19%), Iraq (18%), Iran (16%), Syria (14%) and North Korea (12%) 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.”
Sources: Gallup; CNN; ADL;
Frank Newport, “Americans’ Views of Israel Remain Tied to Religious Beliefs,” Gallup, (March 19, 2019).