Americans’ sympathy for Israel at 22-year high

Ahead of Obama’s visit, Gallup poll finds 64% of Americans sympathize more with Israel, just 12% with the Palestinians

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

File: Americans rally in support of Israel, Chicago, November 2013. (photo credit: Courtesy JUF Chicago/JTA)
File: Americans rally in support of Israel, Chicago, November 2013. (photo credit: Courtesy JUF Chicago/JTA)

NEW YORK – Americans’ sympathy for Israel is at a 22-year high, according to Gallup figures released on Friday, just five days ahead of Barack Obama’s first visit to Israel as president.

In figures gleaned from the polling organization’s early February World Affairs poll, 64 percent of Americans say their sympathies “in the Middle East situation” – Gallup’s term for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace talks – lie more with the Israelis than with the Palestinians. Just 12% favor the Palestinians.

Nearly one-quarter, or 23%, said their sympathies lie with both parties, neither, or had no opinion.

The figures mark a 22-year high in sympathy for Israel. The last Gallup poll that showed 64% sympathy came in 1991, at the height of the First Gulf War and in the midst of the first intifada.

Sympathy for Israel then declined through the 1990’s, though it remained comfortably ahead of sympathy figures for Palestinians. The number who said they favored Israel reached a low point of 38% in 1997, during the first government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the early 2000’s, Americans’ sympathy for Israel saw turbulent spikes and drops as US public opinion responded to successive terror attacks on Israel’s cities and the subsequent Israeli military incursions that drew civilian casualties.

But those public opinion swings resolved by 2005 into a steady, rising trend line showing widespread and growing support for Israel.

The figures are bad news for the Palestinians, as sympathy for their side remained relatively steady — and low — throughout the past three decades, hovering between a high of 20% and a low of 7% since 1988.

Even in periods when many Americans stopped saying they favored Israel in the conflict, most did not switch to the Palestinians, but rather said they favored neither side.

Sympathy for Israel among respondents aged 18-34 is at 55%, compared to 71% among those over 55. But both groups favor the Palestinians in equal measure, at just 12%.

“Younger Americans show less favoritism toward Israel than middle-aged adults and, in particular, seniors; however, they are no more likely to favor the Palestinians,” Gallup notes. Younger Americans “are simply less anchored about whom they favor.”

The poll also found that “Palestinians receive the highest sympathy from Democrats, liberals, and postgraduates, but even among these, support tops off at 24%.”

Self-described “liberals” show the highest level of sympathy toward the Palestinians — 24%, compared to 51% for Israel — while 19% of Democrats are partial toward the Palestinians, and 55% toward Israel. Sympathy for Palestinians is at just 5% among both Republicans and self-described “conservatives.”

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