What Americans think about the war in Israel-Gaza
Polls say they support Israel and disapprove of Biden’s handling of the crisis.
Welcome to Pollapalooza, our occasional polling column.
On Oct. 7, Hamas fighters staged a surprise attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip, touching off the deadliest war between Israel and Palestine in decades. More than 1,400 Israelis were killed in the attacks, and Israel has responded with a barrage of airstrikes that have killed 4,300 Palestinians.
The conflict has dominated headlines worldwide, and Americans are certainly paying attention. According to three polls conducted in the period between Oct. 11 and Oct. 13 — from Marist/NPR/PBS NewsHour, SSRS/CNN and Ipsos/Reuters — around 70 percent of American adults said they were following news of the war either very closely or somewhat closely. In addition, an Oct. 16-19 poll from YouGov found that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mattered “a great deal” to 30 percent of Americans and “a fair amount” to another 36 percent. And an earlier YouGov poll found that 8 percent of Americans even have family in the region — 6 percent in Israel, 2 percent in Palestine.
And most Americans side with Israel in the conflict, according to the polls. The exact numbers vary widely, but across five recent polls, between three and five times as many Americans said they sympathized with Israelis than said they sympathized with Palestinians. (Although it’s worth noting that, in most of the surveys, a sizable minority said that they sympathized with both sides equally. And when not pitted against each other, both Israelis and Palestinians garner overwhelming sympathy from Americans: The SSRS/CNN poll found that 96 percent of Americans have at least some sympathy for Israelis and 87 percent have at least some sympathy for Palestinians.)
Many of these pollsters have asked this question before, and they found that pro-Israeli sentiment had spiked amid the conflict. For example, according to Fox News, registered voters went from sympathizing with Israelis over Palestinians by 59 percent to 24 percent in May 2021 to sympathizing with them 68 percent to 18 percent this month. And according to Morning Consult, they went from sympathizing with Israelis over Palestinians 28 percent to 11 percent in May 2021 to 41 percent to 9 percent this month.
This is an abrupt reversal of a long-term trend that has seen Americans slowly start to sympathize more with Palestinians over the past several years (although still not as much as they sympathized with Israelis). Back in 2013, Gallup found that Americans sympathized with Israelis over Palestinians 64 percent to 12 percent, but earlier this year, that gap was down to 54 percent to 31 percent.
Interestingly, Gallup found that most of that shift was due to changing attitudes among Democrats and independents. For example, Democrats went from sympathizing with Israelis over Palestinians 55 percent to 19 percent in 2013 to sympathizing with Palestinians over Israelis 49 percent to 38 percent earlier in 2023. Meanwhile, Republicans remained steadfast in their support of Israelis — 78 percent sympathized with them in 2013, and 78 percent sympathized with them 10 years later.
So perhaps it’s unsurprising that, this month, Fox News and Morning Consult found that the biggest spikes in support for Israelis came from Democrats and independents too. Per Morning Consult, Democrats went from sympathizing with Palestinians 18 percent to 12 percent in 2021 to sympathizing with Israelis 28 percent to 15 percent this year. Meanwhile, Republicans went from sympathizing with Israelis 51 percent to 3 percent to sympathizing with them 55 percent to 4 percent. In other words, most Republicans are dug in on this issue; Democrats and independents seem to be the only persuadable Americans.
Given Americans’ sympathies for Israelis, it makes sense that they also approve of Israel’s retaliation against Hamas’s attacks. SSRS/CNN found that 50 percent of Americans thought the Israeli government’s military response was fully justified, and another 20 percent thought it was partially justified. And a YouGov/The Economist survey from Oct. 14-17 found that only 18 percent of Americans thought the Israeli government’s response has been too harsh; 32 percent thought it was about right, and 22 percent thought it was not harsh enough.
J.L. Partners/DailyMail.com, polling Oct. 10-12, also asked Americans about specific measures that Israel could or is taking against Palestine. The most popular countermeasure was conducting airstrikes on Hamas targets; 60 percent of respondents to the poll felt that that was a reasonable response by Israel. By contrast, 50 percent said that a full invasion and occupation of the Gaza Strip was reasonable, and 45 percent said that a blockade of electricity, food, water and fuel was reasonable.
Not only do Americans support the Israeli government’s response, but they also want their own government to come to Israel’s aid. Seventy-one percent of Americans told YouGov/The Economist that protecting Israel was a very or somewhat important U.S. policy goal. And Quinnipiac University’s Oct. 12-16 survey found that 76 percent of registered voters thought supporting Israel was in the U.S. national interest.
Perhaps that’s because 53 percent of Americans said they believed that U.S. support for Israel makes the Middle East safer, according to the aforementioned Marist/NPR/PBS NewsHour poll. That could loom large considering that 79 percent of adults in the Marist poll, and 85 percent of respondents in two other polls, said they were very or somewhat concerned that the war in Israel could spiral into a larger conflict in the region.
In terms of specific policies, between 41 and 64 percent of Americans supported sending weapons and/or military aid to Israel, depending on which poll you look at (YouGov/The Economist, J.L. Partners/DailyMail.com or Quinnipiac). A consistent 28-29 percent opposed it in all three polls. Between 49 percent and 55 percent also supported sending financial aid to Israel in the first two polls, while only 21-27 percent opposed it. However, J.L. Partners found that Americans opposed sending U.S. troops to fight alongside Israel. Only 32 percent were in favor of that, while 48 percent were opposed.
So far, Americans seem to be happy with the level of U.S. involvement in the conflict. In an ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted Oct. 13-14 using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, 49 percent of Americans thought the U.S. was doing about the right amount to support Israel in its war against Hamas. Only 18 percent thought the U.S. was doing too much, and 29 percent thought the U.S. was doing too little. Quinnipiac’s poll had similar numbers. But, as was the case with the war in Ukraine, President Biden isn’t getting much personal kudos for his handling of the crisis. In an average of six recent polls, only 39 percent of Americans said they approved of his handling of the war in Israel, while 47 percent said they disapproved.
In addition, SSRS/CNN found that only 47 percent of Americans trusted Biden “moderately” or “a great deal” to make the right decisions about the situation in Israel. The remaining 53 percent trusted him “not much” or “not at all.”
A lot of this is probably attributable to Biden’s overall unpopularity, though. We saw in 2022 that Americans’ initial grades of Biden’s handling of Ukraine closely mirrored his overall approval rating, probably because Americans were viewing his performance through partisan-colored glasses. In fact, considering Biden’s unpopularity, his approval ratings on Israel are relatively strong. His average net approval rating of -7 percentage points on the issue is actually higher than his average net approval rating overall (-13 points), according to 538’s tracker.
Still, if given the choice between Democratic leadership and Republican leadership on the issue, Americans (narrowly) choose Republican leadership. Ipsos/Reuters found that just 26 percent of Americans trusted Biden more than former President Donald Trump to broker peace in the Middle East; 32 percent trusted Trump more than Biden. However, that left 42 percent of respondents who said they trusted neither or weren’t sure. Similarly, the ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 26 percent of Americans thought Republicans would do a better job handling the conflict than Democrats, and 24 percent thought Democrats would do a better job. But 49 percent said neither party, or that the two parties would do an equally good job.
Perhaps luckily for Democrats, the war in Israel is unlikely to affect many people’s votes in the 2024 election. Foreign policy usually doesn’t rate as a major issue in elections, unless a few conditions are met. One is when an acute international crisis is dominating the headlines — which is certainly the case now, but may not be in November 2024. Another is when the parties have clearly contrasting positions on the issue, which is not the case. Both Biden and most Republicans (though, notably, not Trump) have signaled strong support for Israel, and an Oct. 10 YouGov poll found that Americans see little difference between the parties on the issue. Twenty-nine percent of respondents to that poll said that the GOP was more supportive of Israel, 24 percent said that Democrats were and 22 percent said both parties were equally supportive.
Other polling bites
- An SSRS/CNN poll conducted Oct. 4-9 found that Americans — and Republicans — were split on former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s removal from that office. Fifty percent of Americans, and 49 percent of Republicans, approved of his ouster, while 49 percent of Americans and 50 percent of Republicans disapproved. Interestingly, approval of ousting McCarthy was at 56 percent among Republicans who supported Trump in the presidential primary, but only 37 percent among Republicans who did not support Trump.
- According to a YouGov/Yahoo News poll conducted Oct. 12-16, 41 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents supported Rep. Jim Jordan as the next speaker of the House. Other potential candidates, such as Trump (14 percent) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (3 percent), came up far short. The poll also found that 66 percent of all American adults thought conservative Republicans deserve at least some blame for causing gridlock in Washington, D.C. — up from 59 percent in January, just after McCarthy had to endure 15 rounds of voting to win the speakership.
- The United Auto Workers strike against car companies General Motors, Ford and Stellantis has entered its second month, and public opinion is still on the union’s side. According to the aforementioned SSRS/CNN poll, 76 percent of Americans said their sympathies lie mostly with the workers in the strike, and only 23 percent said their sympathies lie mostly with the companies. But the Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, polling around the same time, painted a more nuanced picture. That poll found that 36 percent of Americans sympathized more with the union and only 9 percent sympathized more with the companies, but 26 percent said they sympathized with both equally, and 27 percent said they sympathized with neither.
According to 538’s presidential approval tracker as of 11 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, 40.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.5 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.9 points). At this time last week, 40.2 percent approved and 53.9 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -13.7 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 40.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.2 percent, for a net approval rating of -12.9 points.
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