Editor's note: tippinsights gratefully acknowledges its collaboration with the Center for Security Policy on the simultaneous and exclusive release of this important story.
The new TIPP survey on Israel follows a number of similar recent polls taken around the flare up in violence between Israel and Hamas in May. The preponderance of media attention to the earlier polls both in America and Israel has focused on data that is presented as representing a significant shift in U.S. opinion away from Israel reflected in the aggressively pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rhetoric and attempted legislative actions of the so-called “Squad” in the House of Representatives. Much of this analysis depends on intangibles, however, such as assertions that it is noteworthy that a Democrat member of Congress traditionally supportive of Israel might even consider opposing a given arms sale. In addition, the May Economist/YouGov poll that purportedly showed a parity between American support for Israelis and the Palestinians significantly polled “sympathy” for both groups, not support for the nation of Israel—and it is not unnatural to have sympathy for both groups while having views on where America’s strategic interests lie.
Digging more deeply into the TIPP data suggests that while supporters of the U.S.-Israel alliance will find some numbers of concern, support for Israel remains strong the real concerns may be on the part of Democrats who understand the value of the strategic relationship with the Jewish State and also have constituents who do not want them to be seen as not renouncing the related recent wave of anti-Semitic violence in the United States forcefully enough.
Some additional context for this analysis:
- Liberal Democrats who are uneasy with an increasingly center-right Israel are nothing new. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the dean of this group, has served in Congress for some three decades and has been a serious Presidential contender in the last two cycles. This group (and their views) were more prominent and vocal in the Obama administration, and it should be no surprise that they are more prominent and vocal in the Biden administration.
- Changing U.S. views towards Israel are nothing new. The 70+ years of the U.S.-Israel alliance have seen wide swings in American attitudes towards the Jewish State, notably during the 1982 Lebanon War under a Republican President Ronald Reagan who had largely-favorable views towards Israel. The alliance itself is dynamic and evolving as both nations are constantly changing. The notion that the views surveyed in this polls should be rigidly fixed or the relationship is doomed is disingenuous.
- That said, nothing should be taken for granted and the results of this poll give us valuable insight into how the American people see Israel today, and how that may impact the behavior of their elected representatives in Washington, DC., as well as how they may vote if this increasingly-politicized issue plays a significant role in the 2022 mid-term elections.
The first TIPP question was on general support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, and the results indicate that there is robust, bi-partisan support for Israel in the survey sample. Forty percent of respondents are following the issue closely enough to have a strong opinion, which is highly-unusual in international issues. Within this group, it’s not even close as 6.9% strongly oppose and 33.7% strongly support. Republican support is predictably the strongest, with 70% of the respondents supporting the alliance either strongly or somewhat, with the majority of that group in the “strong” category. But even within the self-identifying liberal demographic, strong support for Israel does not dip below 24%. Among Democrats more broadly, 65% support the relationship with Israel either strongly or somewhat. These are solid numbers for a country frequently portrayed in the U.S. media as polarizing, and suggest that what opposition to the relationship there is among the American people is localized to specific Congressional districts, and would not be a successful platform for a state- or nation-wide election.
The second polled question on whether or not Congress should move to block arms sales to Israel, elicited the clearest partisan divide. The opposition to arms sales was most pervasive among Democrats, with their 62% of support being their strongest of the three questions. Republicans were less certain in their opposition to blocking arms sales, with only 50% opposing, their weakest showing of the survey. The lower Republican support could in part represent libertarian-leaning conservatives that generally oppose U.S. arms sales on the grounds that they increase the likelihood of violence that could entangle America in another “endless war” in the Middle East. If this is indeed the case, they are not wrong that our track record in this department has not been stellar over the last few decades, so while this should be noted as a potential weakness, it may not be directed specifically at Israel.
TIPP’s third question was on support for sending U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, even if some might be diverted to support terrorism. This question is of particular interest as the Trump administration moved aggressively to halt direct aid to the Palestinian Authority and to NGOs such as the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which exists solely to support the Palestinians. Conversely, the Biden administration has requested hundreds of millions of dollars in new aid to the Palestinians in their first budget that was sent to Congress last month. Not surprisingly, opposition among Republicans, at 70%, parallels their support for Israel in the first question. But additionally, support for this aid is the weakest of all the questions polled, particularly in the “strongly support” category while the “strongly oppose” category is the largest of the survey, suggesting that this policy change may not enjoy broad support, even among Democrats who might be expected to back it. As with opposition to the U.S.-Israel relationship, this survey indicates that support for aid to the Palestinians may well be a localized issue.
In conclusion, the fact that for all three questions the “not sure” demographic hovered right around 20% for all three Israel-related questions was also of interest in this poll. While the degrees of strength of support or opposition varied, four out of five of the Americans participating in the TIPP survey have enough information to have a response not only to a general question about the U.S.-Israel relationship, but also to specific questions about arms sales and foreign aid. This usual degree of interest suggests the issue of U.S. support for Israel will have a higher profile politically, both in the 117th Congress and in the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections.
Victoria Coates is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy and a Principal Member of Vi et Arte Solutions, LLC. She served as deputy national-security adviser for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs in the Trump Administration. @VictoriaCoates
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