Most Americans Hold Negative View of Israeli Government, Pew Survey Shows

Poll highlights U.S. partisan divide, as two-thirds of Democrats express negative opinion of Netanyahu's government ■ Majority of Americans still view Israeli people favorably

A man draped in the U.S. flag during Jerusalem Day celebrations in the Old City, Jerusalem, May 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans have a favorable view of the Israeli people but an unfavorable view of their government in Jerusalem, a new Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday shows.

The survey also presents a huge partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats with regards to how they view the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

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The Pew Research Center has been measuring public sentiment among Americans regarding Israel and the Palestinians for decades. This year, though, for the first time the company introduced new questions that distinguish between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples — and their respective governments.

Pew Research Center poll on Americans' views on Israelis, Palestinians and their respective governments

The poll showed that, overall, a plurality of Americans - 39 percent - had a favorable view of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Another 25 percent had a favorable view of the Israeli people but an unfavorable view of the Palestinians, while only 8 percent expressed the opposite sentiment: A favorable view of Palestinians but an unfavorable view of Israelis.

In addition, 20 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. (The other 8 percent had no answer.)

Overall, when the numbers are combined, 64 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Israelis and 46 percent had a favorable view of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, 28 percent had an unfavorable view of Israelis and 45 percent had an unfavorable view of Palestinians.

There was a wide gap between Democrats and Republicans regarding their views on the two sets of peoples, though. While 76 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of the Israeli people, only 56 percent of Democrats shared that perspective. That was actually 2 percent fewer than the number of Democrats with a favorable view of the Palestinian people (58 percent). Only 33 percent of Republicans polled viewed the Palestinians favorably — by contrast, 33 percent of Democrats viewed the Palestinian people unfavorably.

The numbers are very different when it comes to how Americans view the Israeli and Palestinian governments. (The questions, it should be noted, did not include a clear distinction between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza.)

In this category, a large plurality — 43 percent — had an unfavorable view of both the Israeli and Palestinian governments. Only 11 percent viewed both governments favorably, while 28 percent had a favorable view of the Israeli government and an unfavorable view of the Palestinian government. A further 8 percent had the opposite sentiment: A favorable view of the Palestinian government and unfavorable view of the Israeli one. (The other 10 percent did not answer the question.)

Combined, 51 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the Israeli government and 71 percent had an unfavorable view of the Palestinian government.

While both Democrats and Republicans (and those leaning in either direction) mostly had an unfavorable view of the Palestinian government, there were huge gaps between supporters of the two parties when it came to how they viewed the Israeli government. A majority of Republicans - 60 percent - had a favorable view of the Israeli government, but only 26 percent of Democrats shared that sentiment.

Among Democrats, only 12 percent had a favorable view of the Israeli government and an unfavorable view of the Palestinian government. Another 14 percent had a favorable view of both governments. Another 13 percent had a favorable view of the Palestinian government and an unfavorable view of the Israeli one. A majority of Democrats - 53 percent - had an unfavorable view of both governments.

The Pew survey also shows a growing problem for the Israeli government among younger Americans. For example, it shows that among Republicans, there is a majority with a favorable view of the Israeli government only among those who are 65 and older. Among Republicans younger than 30, only 27% have a favorable view of the government.

The poll, which was conducted during the month of April and included more than 10,000 respondents, joins several recent polls that have shown a deterioration in support for Israel among Americans - especially due to a drop in support among Democrats. However, the new poll shows that while a majority of Democrats had a negative view of Israel’s religious, right-wing government, most Democrats also had a favorable view of the Israeli people.