Americans are growing less sympathetic to Israel as war fears grow

David MontgomerySenior data journalist
Carl BialikU.S. Politics Editor and Vice President of Data Science
October 26, 2023, 3:48 PM GMT+0

Americans are much more likely to sympathize with the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict, but the wave of pro-Israel sentiment that followed Hamas's October 7 attack has faded somewhat.

The October 21 - 24 Economist/YouGov poll found 41% of Americans sympathize most with the Israelis, compared to 13% who sympathize with the Palestinians and 28% who sympathize with both sides about equally. But that's down from the 48% who sympathized with the Israelis according to last week's poll. The share of Americans sympathizing with the Palestinians is up from 10% to 13%, while the share sympathizing with both sides rose from 23% to 28%.

Many Americans are concerned about what could happen next in the war between Israel and Hamas. Most (59%) say the conflict is very or somewhat likely to lead to a wider war involving other countries, and another 8% say that has already happened. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents either expect a wider war or think one is already here.

Americans back humanitarian aid to Gaza, but military involvement is more controversial

Some possible actions the U.S. could take in the conflict have little popular support. Only about one-third (32%) say it is a good idea to move more American troops close to Israel and Gaza. About two in five (39%) think sending weapons to Israel is a good idea. Many are unsure about these ideas, so the share who say each is a bad idea is similar to the share saying it is a good idea.

There is, however, majority support for sending food, water, and medical supplies to Gaza (62% say good idea, 15% bad) and pushing Israel and Egypt to allow that kind of aid to enter Gaza (61% good, 13% bad). Democrats are more supportive of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians; Republicans are more supportive of military aid to Israel.

Regarding U.S. military aid to Israel and humanitarian aid to Gaza, more Americans are happy with the status quo of each than support any particular direction of change. While 49% say the U.S. should continue its current level of military support to Israel, 31% of Americans would increase it. Similarly, 45% say the U.S. should continue its current level of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza while 32% would provide even more aid.

Despite widespread approval of some aspects of U.S. involvement, only 37% strongly or somewhat approve of President Joe Biden's handling of the conflict while 42% disapprove — slightly worse for Biden than last week's numbers.

Low trust in many sources of information about the Israel-Hamas war

Many Americans are skeptical about sources of information on the war, including media and governments — and are about as likely to find each to be trustworthy as untrustworthy. Just over one-third (37%) consider the information coming from U.S. officials to be very or somewhat trustworthy, and 34% say that about Israeli officials. Nearly one-third find each of those sources very or somewhat untrustworthy.

Americans are less likely to find the U.S. news media trustworthy (30%) than untrustworthy (40%) about the war. The international media fares better (35% vs. 30%). Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all are more likely to find the international media than the U.S. media to be trustworthy about the war. Among war news sources asked about, Americans consider social media and Palestinian officials to be the least trustworthy.

The other war: Ukraine

Americans are more likely to say that the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the Israel-Hamas war (47%) than to say the same about the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine (40%).

That's true despite widespread positive feelings toward Ukraine and negative feelings about Russia. Large majorities of Americans see Ukraine as an ally or a friend of the U.S. (72%) rather than an enemy or unfriendly (13%). The reverse is true for Russia: Only 6% see it as friendly or an ally; 84% as an enemy or unfriendly. Americans are about as likely to view Russia President Vladimir Putin negatively as to view Russia that way: 9% have very or somewhat favorable views of him and 80% have unfavorable views. Ukraine President Vlodymyr Zelensky is far more popular with Americans: 50% view him favorably while 24% view him unfavorably.

Zelensky also is viewed more positively than another leader currently seeking U.S. support: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Equal shares of Americans hold favorable (33%) and unfavorable views (33%) of Netanyahu.

Much of the difference in sentiment about U.S. responsibility in the two wars stems from the opinion of Republicans, who are more likely to say the U.S. has responsibility to do something in Israel than to say it does in Ukraine. Majorities of Democrats say the U.S. has a responsibility in both conflicts, while Independents are less likely to say so for both.

Two in five Republicans (38%) want to decrease U.S. military aid to Ukraine, including 21% who want it to be stopped entirely. Overall, 56% of Americans want to either increase military aid to Ukraine (23%) or keep it at the same level (33%), including 74% of Democrats and 48% of Republicans who want to at least keep it at the same level.

— Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from the Economist/YouGov poll conducted on October 21 - 24, 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 (Ahmad Hasaballah)