Israel is popular; US policy towards Israel, less so

December 14, 2017, 6:00 PM GMT+0

Equal number of Americans approve and disapprove of President Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Americans have always had warm feelings towards the state of Israel, and two-thirds in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll describe it as a friend or ally. But Americans are less sure about its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition, there is no consensus on President Trump’s decision to break with precedent and formally recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli state’s capital and begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy there.

As they do with so many things, Americans view this decision through a partisan lens. Republicans overwhelmingly favor moving the Embassy, which would set the United States apart from its allies who have maintained they would keep their embassies in Tel Aviv, where the US Embassy currently is based.

But moving the Embassy to Jerusalem also appeals to those who are extremely religious, especially to those within the Republican Party. Nearly nine in ten Republicans who describe religion as very important in their lives approve of moving the Embassy, even more than the share of Republicans overall who approve. Among Democrats and independents, religion makes relatively little difference in opinion on this question.

Just over a third approve of the way President Trump is handling Israel. But presidents often don’t make the public happy when it comes to handling Israel. In mid-2015, just after he and other leaders negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran, Americans gave President Obama mixed reviews, much as they currently give mixed reviews to Mr. Trump. Republicans overwhelmingly approve of Mr. Trump’s performance handling Israel, while two years ago, it was Democrats who approved of Mr. Obama’s performance.

Many Americans aren’t sure what to think of Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Those with an opinion are positive – 33% favorable to 24% unfavorable.

There are two sides when it comes to public thinking about United States relations with Israel. The first is the overwhelming belief that the US should help protect Israel. 63% say that is an important goal of American policy in the Middle East (38% – and two-thirds of Republicans – say protecting Israel is very important). But the second finding suggests that there is relatively little happiness with US policy in general on this issue. Americans are just about as likely to think the United States gives too little support to Israel as to say it gives too much support. Only about a quarter say they are content with the amount of support the U.S. gives Israel.

Democrats and Republicans come down on different sides on the question.

There is also a question of balance. Republicans overwhelmingly sympathize with Israel and not the Palestinians. But Democrats and independents are more likely to claim that they sympathize with both sides. Whatever people think, they believe the United States favors Israel.

Read the full results and tables here.

Image: Getty