How Americans are reacting to escalating violence in Israel

Carl BialikU.S. Politics Editor and Vice President of Data Science
Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
October 11, 2023, 8:09 PM GMT+0

Americans are far more likely to side with Israelis than with Palestinians, according to polls conducted after Saturday's attack by Hamas on Israel and while Israel conducted attacks in Gaza in response. Americans are also more likely to support U.S. aid to Israel than to Palestine, and to think Israelis are trying to avoid striking civilian areas than to think Hamas is. Support for Israel on several fronts is greater among Republicans than among Democrats, and among older Americans than among young adults. Support for Israel also is higher than it was in several prior polls, including during previous waves of conflict in the region.

Polling by the Economist/YouGov finds that far more Americans sympathize with the Israelis than with the Palestinians. The share of Americans overall sympathizing with Israel has risen by 11 points since March. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to sympathize with the Palestinians, and the share of Republicans who sympathize more with Israel has jumped by 16 points since March.

The 37% of Americans who say that in the days following the attack they have heard a lot about the escalating violence are more likely to sympathize with Israel than other Americans are. That also is true among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents who have heard a lot about the violence.

Only 10% of Americans say the Israeli side is more to blame for the violence; 39% say the Palestinian side is. One in five (19%) say they are equally to blame. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to blame both sides equally (28% vs. 9%) and less likely to say the Palestinian side is more to blame (25% vs. 59%).

Another YouGov poll conducted separately from the poll for the Economist found on Monday that Americans are far more likely to believe Hamas is deliberately striking civilian areas (53%) than to believe Israel is (29%). Age divides views on Hamas: 67% of Americans 45 and older believe Hamas' attacks on civilians are deliberate, compared to just 38% of adults under 45.

Most Americans (54%) believe the U.S. government favors the Israeli side in the conflict; 5% say it favors the Palestinian side, and 11% say it treats both sides equally.

Three in five Americans (61%) say protecting Israel is a very or somewhat important goal for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

In the past five months, the share of Americans who strongly or somewhat support the U.S. giving aid to Israel has increased by 9 points, to 53% from 44%. Support for aiding Palestine has fallen 10 points, to 21% from 31%. In May, Democrats were less likely to favor U.S. aid to Israel than to Palestine (38% vs. 45%). Now, the reverse is true, with 46% supporting aid to Israel and 36% to Palestine.

Support for the U.S. to get involved in the conflict also is higher than during prior conflicts between Hamas and Israel. By 46% to 29%, U.S. adults say the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting — compared to a greater share who said the U.S. doesn't have a responsibility, in 2021 and 2014 polls of U.S. adult citizens.

Few expect lasting peace over the next two decades. Only 18% of Americans think it is even somewhat likely there will be a permanent peace deal between Israel and Palestine in the next 20 years. Similar shares of Democrats (21%) and Republicans (17%) say the same.

Some concern about the region may be due to skepticism about President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: 26% strongly or somewhat approve, but 36% strongly or somewhat disapprove. His predecessor, Donald Trump, got a higher level of approval in December 2019 for a related question, on how he was "handling Israel."

Another YouGov poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday found that Americans are divided when it comes to which U.S. political party they think is more supportive of Israel: 29% say the Republican Party, 24% say the Democratic Party, and 22% say both are equally supportive. This marks a shift since nearly a year ago, when twice as many viewed the Republican Party (34%) as more supportive of Israel than the Democratic Party (16%).

American opinion of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is mixed: Slightly more Americans have strongly or somewhat favorable opinions of him (31%) than have strongly or somewhat unfavorable ones (27%). There has been little change since March.

Related: Attitudes to the Israel-Palestine conflict in Western Europe and the USA in 2023

— Carl Bialik contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from the Economist/YouGov poll conducted on October 8 - 10, 2023 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens.

Methodology: Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.

Image: Getty (Ethan Swope)