Commentary Magazine

How Partisan Is the Issue of Israel?

AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

The Pew Research Center doesn’t really do “shock polls,” but it released a doozy earlier this year. Reflecting on its telephone survey of American attitudes on Israel, Pew concluded that the “partisan divide in Middle East sympathies, for Israel, or the Palestinians, is now wider than at any point since 1978.”

Pew asked, “in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, who do you sympathize with more?” And although respondents chose Israel over the Palestinians by 46 percent to 16 percent, and Republican sympathy with Israel was sky high at 79 percent, just 27 percent of Democrats said they sympathized more with Israel compared with 25 percent who did not. The remaining Democrats volunteered either “both,” “neither,” or “don’t know.” This finding seemed to confirm a trend—a dramatic drop in sympathy for Israel among Democrats from what had previously been solid numbers. 27 percent is the lowest level of Democratic sympathy for Israel recorded in the 40 years Pew’s report considers. Along with many others, I wrote nervously that lovers of Israel should be “wary of hugging” Donald Trump “or the present incarnation of the Republican Party too hard.”

But, as was true last year, Gallup has come out with different results, even though it asks a similar question in its own telephone survey, “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or the Palestinians?” Support for Israel was at 64 percent; a level reached just twice in the past three decades. But more interesting, since Pew’s findings don’t dispute that American opinion toward Israel is very favorable, is Gallup’s account of Democratic support. Although Gallup found Democratic support for Israel declining from 53 percent in 2016 to 47 percent in 2017, the 2018 survey shows support rising slightly to 49 percent. No implosion here. Gallup also showed that Israel’s favorability rating has surged to 74 percent, a 17-year high.

Though there is a considerable gap between Democrats (64 percent) and Republicans (83 percent) on this question, those numbers do not suggest the beginning of the end of bipartisan support for Israel.

Gallup’s survey, taken after President Trump’s Jerusalem decision had been made, casts some doubt on the thesis that the embrace of Israel by an unpopular president will harm Israel’s standing in American public opinion. For the time being, if Gallup is right, it has had no effect at all; not even on Democrats.

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