In the Israel-Hamas war, Americans are more likely to support Israel and to have doubts about Biden

Carl BialikU.S. Politics Editor and Vice President of Data Science
October 14, 2023, 2:12 AM GMT+0

A YouGov poll of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens conducted October 10 - 12, 2023 — a few days after a Hamas attack that killed more than 1,000 Israelis set off a war between the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip and the Israeli military — found that Americans are more likely to sympathize with Israel and to see the country as in a stronger position in the war. American opinion on two crucial world leaders involved in the war — Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden — is mixed, with major doubts about Biden's plans in the region and fitness in a global crisis. Re-asking poll questions from a half-century ago or longer about the region finds Americans are at least as supportive of Israel while harboring greater doubts about peace. And sharing 10 statements about the conflict, without sharing the name of the Americans who made the statements, finds major support for Israel's right to self-defense but less for an overwhelming response, for redirecting Ukraine aid to Israel, or for criticizing Israel's human-rights record.

A separate YouGov survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted on October 13, 2023 found that American sympathy for the Israeli people has grown, while about as many Americans have less sympathy for the Palestinian people now than they did a month ago, as have more. Americans also are more likely to favor than oppose an Israeli military order to evacuate the north of Gaza.

The October 10 - 12 poll found Americans are more likely to side with Israel, though without big majorities — many see both sides equally or are unsure. By 39% to 12%, Americans are more likely to sympathize with the Israeli side than the Palestinian side. By 35% to 13% they are more likely to blame the Palestinian side than the Israeli side for the escalation of violence. And Americans are more likely to say it is very or somewhat important to protect Israel than to say it is important to protect the Palestinian people (61% vs. 36%).

About two-thirds (65%) of Americans say it is very or fairly important for the U.S. to cooperate closely with Israel, little changed from when National Opinion Research Center asked the question in 1950.

By 64% to 6%, Americans are more likely to say Hamas is a terrorist organization than to say it isn't. By 57% to 4%, they are more likely to think Israel has more international support than Hamas does.

And the October 13 poll found that American sympathy has grown for the Israeli people but not for the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, 50% favor and only 17% oppose the Israeli military's order to evacuate the north of Gaza. The evacuation order has the support of 46% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans.

Americans are drawing distinctions between the actions of Hamas and the views of the Palestinian people. Only 27% of Americans think almost all or most Palestinians support the recent attacks on Israel; 18% say half support and 39% are unsure.

Few Americans think Hamas acted alone; 60% say Iran played a major or minor role in the attacks and 45% say the same about Hezbollah.

Opinion isn't entirely with the Israeli government's stances. Only 20% say the Israeli government is right to allow Israeli settlements to be built in the West Bank, and 24% say it is wrong. Among Democrats, 11% say it is right and 35% say it is wrong; among Republicans, those figures are 38% and 12%. And 30% support the U.S. government recognizing Palestine as an independent state, compared to 21% who oppose it.

While Americans are more likely to view Netanyahu as a strong leader than as a weak one, and more likely to expect him to remain in his post in a year than not, they're split on whether they have a favorable view of him or find him to be trustworthy.

Few have an opinion about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Among Americans who do, their opinion is mostly negative: 29% view him unfavorably and 6% view him favorably.

Many Americans have a negative outlook about the region. Just 28% think a peaceful settlement of differences between Israel and Arab countries is possible, down from 70% when Gallup asked the question in 1967.

Most Americans (56%) think it is very or fairly likely that the conflict will lead to a wider war involving other countries in the Middle East. Should Israel be attacked by Arab countries, 25% would support the U.S. promising to send troops to Israel while 38% would oppose it — a big increase in support from 11% for and 79% against when the question was asked by the Opinion Research Corporation 50 years ago.

More Americans think most Republicans in Congress support taking strong action in response to the attacks in Israel than say the same about most Democrats in Congress.

Many Americans have doubts about Biden's leadership on the issue. By small margins, they're more likely to disapprove than approve of his handling of foreign policy and of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; by bigger margins they're more likely to be uneasy than confident about his handling of an international crisis, and to think he has no clear plan for U.S. strategy in the region than to think he has one.

While opinion about Biden is more negative than positive, a statement he made about the Hamas attack on Israel — "Terrorism is never justified. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people." — is agreed with by the vast majority of Americans, when they don't know who said it. Other comments without names attached got less agreement — particularly ones that called for either much more or much less support for Israel.

— Taylor Orth contributed to this article

Related: How Americans are reacting to escalating violence in Israel


October 13, 2023 Daily Questions: This Daily Questions survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 4,461 U.S. adults interviewed online on October 13, 2023. The samples were weighted to be representative of the U.S. population, based on gender, age, race, education, U.S. census region, and political party. The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 2%.

See the results for this YouGov poll

October 10 - 12, 2023 YouGov poll: This poll was conducted online on October 10 - 12, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. 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 4%.

Image: Getty (Ahmad Hasaballah)