Americans like Israel, but aren't so sure about Bibi

April 09, 2015, 2:08 PM UTC

Americans tend to see Israel as a friend and ally, but public opinion is split on Prime Minister Netanyahu

Israel is clearly the United States’ best friend in the Middle East.  More than two in three Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll think of Israel as a country friendly to the U.S., and nearly half call it an ally.  But the willingness to think of it as an ally is partisan, as are the assessments of Israel’s just re-elected Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to regard Israel as an ally, though most Democrats say it is at least friendly to the U.S.  

Evaluations of Israel’s Prime Minster are less positive, with nearly as many holding unfavorable as favorable views of Netanyahu.  And opinions are even more partisan than those about Israel.  Half of Democrats are unfavorable towards the Prime Minister; 60% of Republicans are favorable. 

The partisan difference is more pronounced than it was just a few weeks ago.  Democrats’ unfavorable evaluation of Netanyahu has risen nine points since late February; Republicans’ positive assessments are up a similar amount. 

Since the February poll, Netanyahu has criticized U.S. negotiations with Iran both in a speech to Congress and in comments following the announcement representatives had negotiated a framework with Iran for an agreement that would stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Americans don’t trust Iran to keep any promises about its nuclear program, but they still approve of negotiating with Iran to try and stop it.  Among other things, Netanyahu claimed the framework would harm Israel.  There is some evidence in the poll that Americans understand his concerns.  By 45% to 28%, they believe the agreement with Iran makes Israel less, not more, safe.

But Netanyahu’s criticisms of the U.S. and its President may have had an impact.  In this poll, both Netanyahu and President Obama get criticism from significant segments of the public on how they have handled relations between the U.S. and Israel.  43% say President Obama has damaged relations between the U.S. and Israel, a slight increase since February.  But while fewer say Netanyahu has damaged U.S.-Israel relations, the percentage saying he has damaged them has jumped 11 points, with no change in the percentage saying he has not.

The percentage of Democrats saying Netanyahu has damaged relations is up 11 points; Republicans are nine points more likely to say he has done that now than they did in February.

But Americans still disapprove of how the President is handling Israel: just 38% approve.  That includes two-thirds of Democrats, but only a third of independents, and one in ten Republicans.  There has been little change since February.

See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.