Republicans and Democrats Look at the Arab-Israeli Conflict
by Daniel Pipes
It's hardly news that Republicans view Israel more favorably than do Democrats – I wrote about this pattern in 2000 in "The Friendly Republicans" and have even speculated (in "Arabs and Jews Sorting Themselves Out Politically in the United States?") that Jews will eventually settle in the Republican party. But now the Gallup Poll provides more detailed proof than ever before about the calibrations of American attitudes toward the Jewish state. In an article titled "Republicans and Religious Americans Most Sympathetic to Israel," Frank Newport and Joseph Carroll establish its nearly linear quality from right to left. Here are replies to the question, "In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?"
Overall, they found 72 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of Democrats sympathize more with Israelis than Palestinians. The trends become more dramatic once one teases out the sub-views; note the marked diminishment of support for Israel as one goes across the political spectrum, as measured by how many times more sympathy Israel gets:
With the exception of one irregularity (why are moderate Democrats more pro-Israel than conservative Democrats?) the pattern is consistent, even if the numbers fall off dramatically:
Comment: It is surprising – and heartening – to note that liberal Democrats still support Israel by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio. It sure doesn't seem that way. (March 27, 2006)
May 23, 2006 update: I build on this weblog today at "Democrats, Republicans, and Israel."
July 20, 2006 update: Richard Baehr draws some interesting conclusions about the differences between the two parties in response to the hostilities in Lebanon. He notes that the two parties "reflects some consensus, but also two very different views on the meaning of the conflict in this theatre, and more broadly, between the West and radical Islam." In more detail:
Comment: I agree with Baehr's analysis and worry that today's cross-party agreement is fragile and perhaps temporary.
July 26, 2006 update: A NBC/WSJ survey carried out on July 21-24 by Hart/McInturff asked 1,010 Americans "In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with Israel or with the Arab nations?" With a +/- 3.1 percent margin of error, it found Israel ahead by a 7-1 ratio:
The breakdown by political party was not made public but the Republican Jewish Coalition has the figures and made them available to me:
Comments: (1) The contrast between the parties appears to be growing wider. (2) Beyond the obviously huge difference in ratios (81-1 v. 3.5-1), it bears noting how many more Republicans know their mind (82 percent) than do Democrats (55 percent). Turned around, Democrats are both less pro-Israel and more ambivalent.
Aug. 2, 2006 update: A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released today asks three questions pertaining to the current Hizbullah-Israel war, then breaks down responses by party, with Democrats in the first column and Republicans in the second.
Comment: To me the most interesting result is the "Continue to align with Israel" one. The same, massive 25-percent difference separates the parties, no matter how the question is asked, but the number in either party favoring the Arabs over Israel is trivial.
The article, by Marc Caputo, also paraphrases Khaled Saffuri (whose name is misspelled as Khaled Suffari), Grover Norquist's associate, with the interesting observation that Arabs and Muslims "have found it almost impossible to make it into Republican circles ever since Sept. 11," a problem he blames on what he calls the "Fox News syndrome," In Saffuri's simplistic analysis, Republicans watch Fox "and it's like brainwashing."
Sep. 6, 2006 update: Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks notes the sort of evidence presented here and concludes: "We are seeing a disturbing trend in the Democratic Party today, one that the American Jewish community needs to take note of. Democrats are increasingly turning their backs on Israel, and have done so even in the midst of Israel's efforts to stop Hezbollah from bombing Israeli cities."
Sep. 21, 2006 update: According to Ed Lasky, in a lengthy analysis of the "The Democratic Party and the Jews" in the American Thinker:
Supporting the contention that Democrats are more anti-Semitic than Republicans, survey research by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in 2003 showed that 20 percent of Democrats view Jews as caring only about themselves and only 12 percent of Republicans hold such views (ICJR press release, January 14, 2003).
Jan. 1, 2007 update: Gabriel Schoenfeld of Commentary reviews the situation in "Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats" and comes to similar conclusions. With regard to representative-elect Keith Ellison, called "Louis Farrakhan's First Congressman," he writes:
Mar. 3, 2008 update: A Gallup poll of American attitudes toward various countries finds Israel at a stratospheric 5th, following only Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan, with a 71 percent approval rating. Republicans clock in at 84 percent favorability and Democrats at 64 percent.
In contrast, the Palestinian Authority has the third lowest ranking, beating out only Iran and North Korea with 14 favorable (and 75 percent unfavorable).
Dec. 31, 2008 update: Israel's war on Hamas finds dramatic differences between Ds and Rs, according to the Rasmussen Reports:
Jan. 27, 2009 update: Sixty House members wrote a letter today to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which they "respectfully request that the State Department release emergency funds to UNRWA for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance" in Gaza. Interestingly, every one of the sixty is a Democrat, not one is a Republican. That amounts to nearly one-quarter of the House Democratic caucus. Also noteworthy: the list includes some of the most left-wing Democrats in the House such as Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Maxine Waters.
Apr. 27, 2009 update: Caution is the word when the untrustworthy James Zogby writes up the unreliable polling of Zogby International, but for what they are worth, ZI's numbers track with other polls cited above.
Zogby concludes from these numbers that "traditional U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not have bipartisan backing. In fact, as the two parties have evolved over the past thirty years, and as the issue itself has evolved – since Oslo – each of the two parties have moved in different directions." Reluctant as I am to ever agree with Zogby, I have written along these same lines many times and so must concur with his assessment.
May 1, 2009 update: This item is not about Israel but it bears on it: Survey research shows that Democrats blame Jews for the economic meltdown far more than do Republicans, report Neil Malhotra and Yotam Margalit in "Anti-Semitism and the economic crisis." They conducted a study of 2,768 American adults in which they explored "people's responses to the economic collapse and tried to determine how anti-Semitic sentiments might relate to the ongoing financial crisis." Their survey asked respondents "How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?" and offered five replies: a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, not at all. They found that 24.6 percent of non-Jewish respondents blamed Jews a great deal, a lot, or a moderate amount.
June 13, 2009 updates: (1) William Kristol comments on the above results: "In a survey administered by (apparently) liberal academics, looking at attitudes not towards Israel or Likud but towads Jews per se – Democrats are almost twice as likely to be hostile to Jews than Republicans."
(2) Adam Hasner, majority leader of the Florida House of Representatives and Florida Jewish outreach chairman for the McCain Campaign in 2008, argues in an article today that "The Era of Bipartisan Support for Israel is Over." Excerpts:
Hasner then goes on to skewer the policies of Barack Obama vis-à-vis Israel.
June 15, 2009 update: A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll of covered 800 registered American voters conducted last week for The Israel Project found that 65 percent of self-identified Republicans support Israel and just 3 percent for the Palestinians; independents favor Israel over the Palestinians by 50 percent to 9 percent; and Democrats do so 38 percent to 9 percent.
Asked whether Israel's new government is committed to peace, 56 percent of Republicans answered in the affirmative, as did 49 percent of independents and 42 percent of Democrats.
Asked about Israel's right to "defensible borders," Republicans assented 64 to 12 percent, independents 58 to 20 percent, and Democrats 45 to 33 percent.
Jan. 26, 2010 update: 54 Democrats and not a single Republican signed a letter to Barack Obama initiated by Keith Ellison and Jim McDermott urging him to take steps in favor of Hamas-ruled Gaza and inimical to Israel's security interests. A host of anti-Israel groups also signed on. The letter asks that Obama "advocate for immediate improvements for Gaza in the following areas" and then lists ten ways to ease up on Hamas.
Feb. 19, 2010 update: A Gallup poll has both good and worrisome news for Israel. On the plus side, Israel has the fifth-highest "favorability" ratings of any country in the world (following Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan). On the worrisome side, the largest partisan divide in attitudes involve Israel, a 27-percent point difference, with 80 percent Republicans seeing it favorably and just 53 percent of Democrats (still a majority, though) and also the Palestinian Authority, where 12 percent of Republicans are favorable versus 25 percent of Democrats. Curiously, with the slight exception of Pakistan (25 percent v. 24 percent), Israel is the only foreign country which Republicans see more favorably.
Mar. 25, 2010 updates: (1) Commissioned by one Zogby at the Arab American Institute, another Zogby at Zogby International asked American adults how to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict and found that they are split. "Fifty percent of Americans agree the Obama Administration should steer a middle course in pursing peace in the Middle East" – meaning treat Arabs and Israelis alike, end the historic bond with Israel. "There is a strong divide on this question with 73% of Democrats agreeing that the President should steer a middle course while only 24% of Republicans hold the same opinion." That's a stunning difference, the largest of any question I have yet seen.
(2) The National Journal runs a weekly poll of conservative and liberals bloggers (in which I take part). This week's poll incuded a question on the U.S.-Israel relationship: "Assess the Obama administration's recent dealings with Israel." The answers provided were "Too tough," "About right," and "Too lenient." Seventeen bloggers on each of the left and right took part. Strikingly, 12 of the conservatives thought it "Too tough" and not a single liberal agreed.
For the record, I replied "Too tough" and added this comment: "Aficionados of Middle East history will recall the Algerian Dey's fly whisk incident of 1827."
Mar. 26, 2010 update: Four years ago, based on political trends, I wrote of my expectation that bipartisan U.S. support for Israel is coming to an end. Rather than the friendly argument over who is the better friend of Israel, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, "a major shift [in policy will occur] whenever the White House changes hands from one party to the other."
That point appears to be upon us. Indicative of this almost unnoticed shift is a throw-away line by Janine Zacharia in the Washington Post where she notes that, given Binyamin Netanyahu's poor relations with the Obama administration, some Israelis expect he will "search for ways to buy time until the midterm U.S. elections in hopes that Obama would lose support and that more pro-Israel Republicans would be elected."
That an Israeli leader awaits one U.S. party to defeat the other marks the dawn of a new age, and not one favorable to his country. As I put it in 2006, "As the political consensus breaks, Israel will be the loser."
Mar. 31, 2010 update: 333 members of the House of Representatives signed the Hoyer-Cantor letter (dated Mar. 19) to the secretary of state reaffirming the U.S.-Israel alliance, meaning 102 members did not. Those 102 include 94 Democrats (including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) and and 8 Republicans, a 12-to-1 ratio. .
Apr. 11, 2010 update: Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe devotes his column today to this subject, "Support for Israel runs on party lines." He posts the graph below from Gallup, showing that party trends since 2001 have accentuated the already apparent difference between Republicans and Democrats. (Interesting to note that independents track the Republican outlook though less favorably to Israel.)
Jacoby concludes his essay:
Apr. 13, 2010 update: Just as the House letter supporting Israel had more Democratic holdouts than Repubican ones (see the Mar. 31, 2010 update above), so too with a similar Senate letter to the secretary of state. A total of 76 members signed it. The absent 24 included 20 Democrats and 4 Republicans, a 5-to-1 ratio. That's a striking imbalance but much less than the House ratio of 13 to 1.
June 8, 2010 update: Jennifer Rubin reports on a Rasmussen poll concerning the "Free Gaza" flotilla:
June 10, 2010 update: Seventy-eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a "Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu" letter to express "steadfast support" for him and for Israel in its hour of need. Every one of them is not just a Republican but a member of the House Republican Study Committee, a conservative grouping. This contrasts with the Jan. 26, 2010, letter signed by 54 Democrats in support of Hamas.
Oct. 8, 2010 update: Reporting on a a survey of 1000 likely voters carried out on October 3-5 by McLaughlin and Associates for the Emergency Committee for Israel, William Kristol focuses on its Question 30: "Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate whom you perceive as pro-Israel?" He writes:
Dec. 15, 2010 update: In a survey of 1,000 likely American voters nationwide conducted on December 9-10, Rasmussen Reports finds 57 percent see Israel as an American ally, 33 percent see it between ally and enemy, and and 5 percent see it as an enemy. Then this: "While 74% of GOP voters consider the Jewish nation an ally, only 45% of Democrats feel the same way."
Feb. 28, 2011 update: Gallup asked its annual question, "In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?" and found in 2011 that Americans as a whole favor Israel 63 to 17 percent, or nearly 4-to-1. As usual, party affiliation makes a big difference (80 vs. 57 percent favorable to Israel). Oddly, though, the differences between independents and Democrats disappeared.
June 1, 2011 update: It turns out that the Republicans were more pro-Zionist in the U.S. presidential campaign of 1944, in part due to the efforts of Benzion Netanyahu, 34, and future father of Binyamin. Rafael Medoff provides details in a historical review, "From father to son, the Netanyahu legacy in Washington":
Medoff sees in this precedent that "support for Zionism, and later for Israel, would become a permanent part of American political culture. Every subsequent Republican and Democratic convention has adopted a plank supporting Israel."
Dec. 7, 2011 update: In a long and important analysis, Ben Smith of Politico looks at "Israel rift roils Democratic ranks," an look at how two of the "Democratic Party's core institutions are challenging a bipartisan consensus on Israel and Palestine that has dominated American foreign policy for more than a decade." Those two would be the Center for American Progress and Media Matters sporting foreign policy luminaries and anti-Israel obsessives such as Eli Clifton, Ali Gharib, Matt Duss, and M.J. Rosenberg.
Sep. 4, 2012 update: Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Robert Kennedy and front-runner candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 4th District of Massachusetts, said today "the capital of Israel is Tel Aviv" and asserted that this is U.S. policy "going back quite some time now."
Comment: Quite a contrast with his grandfather, who traveled to Palestine in 1948 and wrote up a remarkably informed newspaper report on his findings.
Oct. 17, 2012 update: David Brog of Christians United for Israel looks at a central aspect of this trend in a Middle East Quarterly article, "The Failure of the American Jewish Left," appearing in the Winter 2013 issue (yes, we get things done ahead of schedule at the Quarterly). He finds that
Although the title specifically mentions the Jewish Left, other than one section of his analysis, Brog deals with the Left as a whole. He calls on pro-Israel liberals to take up the cudgels of the Jewish state.
Oct. 18, 2012 update: Pew Research Center survey finds that 25 percent of Americans say that the level of U.S. government support for Israel is about right. Unpacking this number, 57 percent of conservative Republicans agree with this statement, as do 46 percent of Republicans in general, 24 percent of independents, and 9 percent of Democrats.
Jan. 8, 2013 update: A Pew Research Center survey of American adults (not necessarily voters) conducted on Dec. 5-9, 2012, found partisan differences vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict greater than ever: 50 percent overall sympathize more with Israel, 10 percent more with the Palestinians. Of them:
Note the linear progression from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat.
Looking at religion, Israel has the sympathy of 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 47 percent of white mainline Protestants, 47 percent of white Catholics, and 40 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.
As for age, Israel does well among those older and less well among the younger. Best are those 50 and older (58 percent), medium those 30-49 (46 percent), and worst among those 18-29 (38 percent).
Looking at these numbers over time, Pew finds that "differences have widened as Republican support for Israel has grown and Democratic opinion has been more stable." Republicans now favor Israel with a 70 percent majority; that figure was 56 percent in 2002 and 49 percent in 1978. Democrats now weigh in at 41 percent, hardly differing from 2002 (37 percent) and 1978 (44 percent). Note how wide the partisan gap has grown, from a 5-point spread in 1978 (49 to 44) to a 29-point (70 to 41) today.
Feb. 14, 2013 update: Richard Baehr ponders the nomination of Chuck Hagel for U.S. secretary of defense and asks "Are we down to one pro-Israel party?" Some excerpts:
Baehr contrasts the situation to years past, when
Note the sentence I bolded below, an explanation worthy of deep consideration both on this issue and the Islamist one:
The result is a support for Israel bordering on the nominal:
Feb. 27, 2013 update: Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post got privileged access to cross-tabs on a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and wrote up the results at "Democrats' Israel problem":
Mar. 18, 2013 update: (1) A poll by Langer Research Associates for ABC News and the Washington Post finds the usual distribution across the U.S. political spectrum. Noteworthy (and troubling for Israel), however, is the proximity of independents to Democrats and their distance from Republicans (49, 51, and 73 percent, respectively).
(2) Gallup published results of a February poll in which two questions also found the usual political distribution.
Mar. 19, 2013 update: (1) A CNN/ORC International poll finds 46 percent of Americans say Israel is an ally of the U.S. This divides into 63 percent of Republicans calling Israel an ally and 33 percent of Democrats.
(2) Pew Research Center reports on its poll conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults: The center
July 15, 2014 update: Sixteen months later, another Pew Research Center poll confirms existing trends. Of particular interest is that this poll was conducted among 1,805 adults on July 8-14 – in other words, in the middle of the a war between the Palestinian organization Hamas and Israel.
On the basic sympathy question, 51 percent sympathize more with Israel and 14 percent with the Palestinians. This hardly differs from the March 2013 figures (above) of 49 and 12.
One small oddity – perhaps important for the future? - is that conservative/moderate Democrats weigh in more sympathetic to Israel (48 percent) than do Independents (45 percent), disrupting the usual linear progression from right to left. Likewise, the Independents are marginally more sympathetic to Palestinians (17 percent) than the conservative/moderate Democrats (16 percent).
July 21, 2014 update: A CNN poll conducted by ORC International on July 18-20, with 1,012 adult Americans questioned by telephone finds that 45 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents, and 73 percent among Republicans say that Israel's current military actions in Gaza are justified.
July 28, 2014 update: Pew is back with another report, this one looking in more detail at the Hamas-Israel war now taking place.
On the question "Who is most responsible for the current violence," 40 percent of American adults blame Hamas and 19 percent blame Israel. Democrats split 29-26 percent, Independents 42-20 percent, and Republicans 60-13 percent. In other words, the Ds blame Hamas by 3 percent, the Is by 22 and the Rs by 47 percent. Or: Is differ from Ds by 19 percent and from the Rs by 25 percent.
On the question "Israel's response to conflit with Hamas has …," 25 percent of the total sample opines that Israel has gone too far and 15 percent not far enough. Democrats vote 35-9 percent, Independents 27-18 percent, and Republicans 16-19 percent. In other words, the Ds think Israel went too far by 26 percent, the Is by 9 and the Rs by -3 percent. Or: Is differ from Ds by 17 percent and from the Rs by 12 percent.
Comment: The differences are (1) nearly linear (with the Is roughly half-way between the parties) and (2) growing wider apart.
Aug. 1, 2014 update: Surveying 1,010 Americans for The Israel Project, Paragon Insights asked: "Thinking about the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Middle East, please tell me whether, in general, you think America should be: a strong supporter of Israel, a supporter of Israel, a supporter of the Palestinians, or a strong supporter of the Palestinians?"
In reply, the sample showed the usual near-linear result of support for Israel: 66 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Independents, and 44 percent of Democrats.
Support for Palestinians came out less predictably: 8 percent of Republicans, 5 percent of Independents, and 13 percent of Democrats.
Aug. 5, 2014 update: I look at "How Church Attendance Affects American Attitudes toward Israel" today, based on 14 years of Gallup polls. One excerpt: "Political views matter more than religiosity: 'nonreligious Republicans are more likely to sympathize with Israelis than highly religious Democrats'."
Aug. 6, 2014 update: CBS News finds that 34 percent of Americans polled say Hamas is most to blame in the current Hamas-Israel conflict and 6 percent mostly blame on Israel. 54 percent of Republicans mainly blame Hamas, 32 percent of independents, and 24 percent of Democrats.
47 percent blame both sides equally. That number breaks down to 55 percent of Democrats, 48 percent of Independents, and 35 percent of Republicans.
Feb. 23, 2015 update: Gallup released an analysis of poll results, "Seven in 10 Americans Continue to View Israel Favorably," which includes a breakdown of Republicans and Democrats in a section titled "Republicans Nearly Unanimous in Support of Israel":
Feb. 24, 2015 update: The usual partisan difference shows up on another, related topic in the Gallup Poll: who favors creating a Palestinian state. 33 percent of conservatives, 48 percent of moderates, and 57 percent of liberals support this outcome. The against ledger reads, respectively, 52, 32, and 25 percent.
Mar. 3, 2015 update: Every single member of Congress who has announced his absence when Binyamin Netanyahu speaks today about the Iran issue is a Democrat, not a single one is a Republican:
SENATE - 9 members
HOUSE - 48 members and 1 delegate
Mar. 30, 2015 update: A Pew Research Center poll finds the usual, nearly linear division in support for Israel and the Palestinians. 83 percent of conservative Republicans support Israel a lot or some, as do 71 percent of moderate/liberal Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, 55 percent of conservative/moderate Democrats, and 60 percent of liberal Democrats (wondering if that last isn't a typo).
Apr. 15, 2015 update: A Bloomberg opinion survey written up by Margaret Talev finds that "Israel has become a deeply partisan issue for ordinary Americans as well as for politicians in Washington, a shift that may represent a watershed moment in foreign policy and carry implications for domestic politics after decades of general bipartisan consensus." Specifics:
The article quotes J. Ann Selzer who oversaw the poll: "Israel is an emotionally charged issue, period. It's affecting a broader audience than the Jewish vote."
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