Netanyahu Most Admired World Leader Among American Evangelical Christians, Poll Finds

Brookings Institution survey finds major differences in attitudes between Republicans and Democrats on Netanyahu and regarding Israeli government policy.

Obama meets with Netanyahu in the Oval office of the White House, Washington D.C., November 9, 2015.
Obama meets with Netanyahu in the Oval office of the White House, Washington D.C., November 9, 2015. Reuters

Results of a survey on the attitude of Americans regarding Israel and the Middle East conducted last month by the Washington-based Brookings Institution think tank found the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the most admired national or world leaders mentioned by those questioned, but the results varied greatly depending on the respondents political affiliation and whether or not they identified themselves as evangelical Christians, with Republicans and evangelicals expressing generally more favorable views of the Israeli government than Democrats.

The poll found that in an open-ended question in which no particular names were suggested, the Israeli premier was mentioned more frequently (16 percent of the time) by evangelical Christians than any other name, topping late U.S. President Ronald Reagan (11 percent) and President Barack Obama (at 10 percent).  Among Republicans, Netanyahu tied with Reagan for the top spot (at 12 percent), but among Democrats, he was named by only one percent of Democrats. Overall among those questioned, Obama took the top spot, followed by Reagan, Netanyahu, Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"While Republicans overall have much more favorable views of Netanyahu than unfavorable ones, Democrats have a more unfavorable view of the Israeli leader by a ratio of about two to one. In general, older Americans admire the Israeli leader far more than the younger ones," a Brookings report on the poll results stated. "Netanyahu’s unfavorable ratings among Democrats have risen substantially from a year ago from 22% to 34%; in comparison, favorable views of Netanyahu among Republicans stayed within the margin of error of last year’s results from (51% compared to 49% in 2014) while unfavorable views increased slightly from 9% to 13%."

When asked about their attitudes toward the recent wave of violence in Israel and the West Bank, 29 percent of those questioned said they were very concerned about the events and another 38 percent said they were somewhat concerned. Questioned about the cause of the violence, 37 percent of Democrats blame the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion for the violence, 35% say the absence of a serious peace process is the cause, while 15% blame Palestinian extremists. Among Republicans, 40 percent blame Palestinian extremists, 27 percent the absence of a peace process and 16 percent the occupation and settlement policy.

Republicans are also found to be more likely to support a pro-Israel American government stance in Middle East diplomacy (as opposed to an even-handed or pro-Palestinian approach) than Democrats are. "Republicans who say they care a lot about candidates’ positions on Israel favor Ben Carson first (35% in comparison to 26% for Republicans overall) followed by Donald Trump with 27% (compared to 28% of Republicans overall)," the report added.

Americans were found to have a more favorable than unfavorable views of Muslims as individuals but only 37 percent have a favorable view of Islam as a religion, while 61 percent have unfavorable views of Islam.

"For comparison, strong majorities of Americans across the political spectrum say they have favorable views of Jews and of the Jewish religion," the report noted.

The poll was conducted between November 4 and 10. It includes an oversampling of evangelical and born-again Christians in an effort to more accurately measure their views. Fully 79% of evangelicals told the pollsters that the current violence "across the Middle East" is a sign that the end of days is nearer compared to only 43% of non-Evangelical Christians.

The overall poll has a margin of error of 3 to 4 percent and was conducted through the Nielsen Scarborough research firm.