Israel and the Palestinians: Where do America’s sympathies lie?

May 19, 2021, 5:00 PM GMT+0

President Joe Biden addressed the recent fighting between Israelis and Palestinians by expressing support for a ceasefire — a call that comes after Israeli airstrikes left hundreds in the occupied territories dead, and a dozen people were killed in Israel by rocket attacks.

Most Americans believe helping to protect Israel should be an important goal of American policy toward the Middle East. On this, Democrats (59%), Republicans (64%), and Independents (79%) agree. However, the latest Economist/YouGov poll underscores the differences in opinions about Israel between Republicans and Democrats.

For example, although 22% of Democrats regard protecting Israel as "very important” U.S. goal overall, fully 61% of Republicans do so.

In the longstanding conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, one-third of Americans (33%) are on Israel’s side. One-quarter (26%) say their sympathies lie with both sides, and 15% choose the Palestinians.

Three in five Republicans (61%) say their sympathies lie with Israel, while Democrats are more likely to say they sympathize with both sides (35%) than support either Israel (16%) or the Palestinians (23%). Only 5% of Republicans say their sympathies lie more with the Palestinians.

But many don’t think the U.S. government agrees with their position, however. One in four of those who support Israel (26%) believe the U.S. government is on the side of the Palestinians, while a majority whose sympathies lie with the Palestinians (55%) believe the U.S. government favors Israel.

Half of Republicans (53%) blame the Palestinians for the recent escalation of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territory, compared to 30% of Independents and 14% of Democrats who say the same. One-quarter of Democrats (25%) and Republicans (23%), as well as three in 10 Independents (30%) are not sure who to blame.

Those who sympathize with the Israelis overwhelmingly blame the Palestinians for the escalation of violence (69%), while just 10% of those who sympathize with the Palestinians say the same. Three in five Americans (60%) who sympathize with the Palestinians blame Israel for the conflict, compared to 3% of those who take Israel’s side.

What Americans think of Israel's Prime Minister

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has faced corruption charges and several elections in recent months, doesn’t get a huge amount of support from the U.S. public. Although favorable ratings of Netanyahu outweigh unfavorable ones (37% to 27%), even more aren’t sure what they think (39%). Republicans,however, have a much more positive assessment of Netanyahu (53% to 13%).

How America rate’s Biden’s handling of Israel

Three years ago, at the time the Trump Administration announced the U.S. Embassy in Israel would move to Jerusalem, opinion of Netanyahu was not much different than it is today. At that time, American divided evenly in their assessment of how then-President Donald Trump was handling Israel.

At this moment, President Biden doesn’t fare all that well. Three in 10 Americans (29%) approve of how he is handling Israel during this crisis, while 41% disapprove. Just half of Democrats approve (49%), and one in five disapprove. Seven in 10 Republicans (69%) also disapprove.

Two-thirds of those who sympathies lie with Israel disapprove (69%) of how President Biden is handling the situation there, and so do 46% of those who are more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Should the United States get involved?

Just about as many Americans believe the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians (33%) as say it does not (37%). Republicans (41%) are more willing than Democrats (33%) and Independents (32%) to have the U.S. get involved, but one in three Republicans (32%) don’t want U.S. involvement.

Americans who are more sympathetic to Israel are more likely to think the U.S should be involved (48%), but one-third (33%) in this group disagree. Those who are sympathetic toward the Palestinians would rather have the U.S. stay out of the crisis (45%) than intervene (39%).

Related: Two-thirds of Americans approve of sending COVID-19 vaccines overseas

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between May 15 - 18, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample.

Image: Getty