December 20, 2016 | By Dina Smeltz

American Views of Israel Reveal Partisan and Generational Divides

By Dina Smeltz and Kelhan Martin

Donald Trump has caused controversy for his stated position to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move would counter decades of State Department strategy to determine the status of Jerusalem only through peace negotiations. Moreover, Trump’s announced choice for US ambassador to Israel, bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, has drawn criticism for Friedman’s dismissal of a two-state solution and tolerance for Israel’s building settlements in the West Bank. While a majority of Americans would prefer not to take a side in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Republicans are more likely than ever to lean toward siding with Israel, perhaps to counter what they perceive as worsening relations between the US and Israel under President Obama’s tenure.

Most Americans Oppose Taking Sides in Conflict

While other president-elect have pledged relocation before, they soon backtracked on this idea to avoid the appearance of taking a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Taking an impartial stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict has aligned with at least a decade of American public opinion. A majority of Americans have consistently said that the United States should not take a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the latest Chicago Council Survey conducted June 10 - 27, 2016, six in ten (59%) say that the US should not take either side, while three in ten (33%) say the US should take Israel’s side, and a mere four percent favor taking the Palestinian side.

However, Republicans are now more likely than ever to support taking Israel’s side (57% vs. 48% in 2014). This increased support for taking Israel’s side has come at the expense of Republicans who support taking no side in the conflict: since last asked in the 2014 Survey, Republicans have become nine percentage points less likely to favor taking no side (38% vs. 47% in 2014). There have not been any significant shifts in the views of Democrats and Independents on this question.

Republicans Perceive Worsening US-Israel Ties

Republicans could be expressing increased sympathy toward Israel in response to the strained relations between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu leading up to and after the US signing of the Iran nuclear deal (the Israeli government has repeatedly denounced the accord). A majority (52%) of Republicans believe that relations between the United States with Israel are worsening, while a plurality overall and among Democrats and Independents think relations are staying the same. In addition to this finding, the 2016 Council Survey showed that a majority of Republicans oppose the Iran deal while Democrats and Independents tend to support it (Republican 52% oppose; Democrat 22% oppose; Independent 39% oppose). 

Despite the partisan differences on taking a side and on the status of bilateral relations, overall trends from Chicago Council Survey data indicate that the relationship between the United States and Israel will continue to be viewed warmly by the American public, much as they have over the past four decades of Chicago Council polling. In 2016, on a “feeling” thermometer with a 0-100 scale, with 100 being the warmest, Americans rated Israel 58°. This reading was the fourth highest registered of nations included in the survey, preceded by Canada (81°), Australia (77°), and Japan (63°). Although all partisan groups expressed a warm view toward Israel, as has been the case in past surveys, Republicans have the warmest view (Republican 65°; Democrat 53°; Independent 58°).

As Dina wrote earlier this year in the Washington Post's Monkey Cage, despite remaining favorable toward Israel, many Democrats are critical of Israeli policy and continue to support the creation of an Independent Palestinian state (while Republicans tend to oppose a two-state solution). The 2016 Survey shows that while seven in ten Republicans (68%) believe Israel is playing a positive role in resolving key problems facing the Middle East, half of Democrats (50%) believe Israel is playing a negative role. 

A Generational Divide

Another divide in the overall feeling towards Israel to have historically emerged is that of an age gap. From 1978 through the mid-2000’s attitudes towards Israel were relatively comparable and stable across all age groups. However, by 2008 generational impressions became increasingly discernable, whereby the elderly feel considerably warmer than youths towards Israel. Today a 14° gap exists between those aged 18-29 and those over 60.

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey reveals consistent age differences of opinion on Israel, whereby the elderly are more sympathetic than youths. For example, 18-29 year olds are 20 percentage points less likely than those over 60 to say that the United States should take Israel’s side (18-29, 26%; 60+, 46%), with younger Americans instead favoring no side. Those over 60 years old are also seven percentage points more like than those aged 18-29 to say that Israel is playing a positive role in the Middle East (18-29, 50%; 60+, 57%). 

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

Archive




| By Dina Smeltz, Craig Kafura

Climate Concerns on the Rise

While Democrats and Republicans are at opposite ends of the spectrum in prioritizing climate change, Chicago Council Surveys going back to 2002 have shown longstanding public support for an international treaty to address the problem.


Americans Hungry for Food Information

There is a renaissance in America’s interest in food and, more specifically, how food is produced. A new Chicago Council poll finds that contrary to the debate about hot-button issues like GMOs, antibiotics, and local food, the vast majority of Americans value food that is above all affordable, safe, and nutritious.

| By Karl Friedhoff, Dina Smeltz

Strong Asia Alliances, Divided Publics

New Council survey data shows that US relations with Japan and South Korea are strong. But mutual distrust between Japan and South Korea continues, even as the United States encourages strengthened relations in the face of a rising China.

| By Sara McElmurry

Calling a Vote before the Curtain Call

Soon-to-be-former Speaker John Boehner has shot down immigration advocates’ requests that he call a vote on immigration before he leaves Congress at the end of the month. But numbers from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey suggest that advancing a vote might not be a bad idea.


| By Karl Friedhoff

Meet the New South Korea

South Korea is no longer sitting back and absorbing North Korea's provocations. A look at attitudes on identity and reunification among South Korea's youth suggests that in the future this will become the norm, not the exception.

| By Craig Kafura

The Politics of the Iran Deal

Republicans have come out strongly against the Iran nuclear deal, and have also used it to slam their biggest Democratic rival for 2016, Hillary Clinton. But is the deal actually a problem for Clinton?




| By Craig Kafura

Americans Support Ending Cuba Trade Embargo

As the United States and Cuba continue to work towards a normalization of the relationship, results from the new 2015 Chicago Council Survey show that Americans favor lifting the trade embargo on Cuba and believe the proposed changes in US-Cuba relations will benefit both countries.