Survey: Americans Support Israel, Anxious about Threats from Middle East

November 9, 2015
As President Obama meets Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, survey data from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs show that while both Republicans and Democrats feel warmly toward Israel, there are partisan divisions on Israel’s role in resolving key problems in the Middle East and on the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Data from the Council's report, "American Anxiety over Middle East Buffets Public Support for U.S. Presence in the Region," also show that Americans’ perceived top threats to U.S. security emerge out of the ongoing conflict in Syria, including international terrorism and the rise of violent Islamic extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.

Bipartisan Support for Israel, but Partisan Divisions on Palestinian State, Israeli Role in Region
  • Previous results from the Chicago Council Survey found that both parties have favorable feelings toward Israel. In the last year the question was asked, 2014, a majority of both Republicans (65 percent) and Democrats (57 percent) expressed favorable views.  
  • Support for using U.S. troops to defend Israel from an attack by its neighbors is currently at record high levels among Republicans (67 percent), Democrats (49 percent) and Independents (46 percent). Overall, a majority of Americans (53 percent) would support using U.S. troops for this purpose.
  • The 2015 data show that a majority of Democrats support “an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip” (61 percent) compared to minorities among Republicans (29 percent) and Independents (42 percent).
  • The U.S. public is evenly divided on whether Israel plays a positive or negative role in resolving regional problems. A majority of Democrats say Israel plays a negative role (54 percent negative to 41 percent positive) while a majority of Republicans say that Israel plays a positive role (61 percent positive to 34 percent negative).
Middle East Seen as Most Important Region for U.S. Security Interests
  • Fully half of Americans (50 percent) consider the Middle East very important for U.S. security interests, with 36 percent naming it somewhat important. This places the Middle East ahead of Europe, as well as the Asia-Pacific, where Americans see a lesser threat in the rise of China.
  • A plurality of Americans (43 percent) favor maintaining the U.S. military presence in the Middle East; 29 percent favor increasing it and only 26 percent favor decreasing it.
The Conflict in Syria
  • Americans are more concerned about threats emerging from the Syrian conflict than the actual conflict between the Assad regime and opposition groups. Large majorities of Americans consider international terrorism (69 percent) and the rise of violent Islamic extremist groups in Iraq and Syria (64 percent) critical threats to the United States. But when asked about “the ongoing conflict in Syria” without mention of violent extremists, only 35 percent consider the situation in Syria a critical threat to the United States.
  • When asked which outcome in Syria is most threatening to U.S. interests, only 7 percent see a victory by the Assad regime as the biggest threat to U.S. interests. Fifty-eight percent say a victory by violent Islamic extremist groups, with another 27 percent naming a continuing civil war in Syria.
  • A majority of Americans (57 percent) support the use of U.S. troops to fight against violent Islamic extremist groups in Iraq and Syria – even if it is a unilateral deployment by the United States.
  • The public sees the conflict in Syria as a long-lasting one: 73 percent of Americans believe that the United States will be involved in military action to defeat violent Islamic extremist groups in Iraq and Syria for more than three years.
About the Chicago Council Survey
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2015 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, probability-based nationwide online research KnowledgePanel between May 25 and June 17, 2015, among a national sample of 2,034 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges from ± 2.2 to ± 3.1 percentage points depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups.
The 2015 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the United States-Japan Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.