Why is American foreign policy more favorable to Israel than that of almost any other nation? The simple answer is that the American people support Israel more than the people of almost any other nation. Gallup gives us the numbers in its annual February World Affairs survey. Gallup found that 71% of Americans have favorable views toward Israel, while only 19% have favorable views toward the Palestinian Authority and only 10% have favorable views toward Iran. (Just who are those 10%, one wonders.) This represents a high point, but not one that is much above other recent years. Going back to 2001, Gallup finds that between 58% (in 2002) and 71% (in 2008 as well as this year) were favorable toward Israel. Favorable feelings toward the Palestinian Authority fluctuated between 11% and 22%, spiking up to 27% in 2005.
Favorable feelings were expressed by large majorities of Republicans (80%), Independents (71%) and Democrats (65%). However, on the question of whether your sympathies more with the Israelis or the Palestinians, there is an increasing partisan division. Gallup has been asking this question since 1988 and while no more than 20% have ever said they sympathized more with the Palestinians, there have been many years when more respondents answered both rather than the Israelis (1988, 1993-98, 2000-01). But since 2003, when George W. Bush cut off negotiations with Yasir Arafat, there has been a widening gap between the percentage sympathizing with the Israelis and the percentage sympathizing with both. This year 61% sympathized more with the Israelis, 19% with the Palestinians and 19% with both.
On this question there is a considerable difference between Republicans, 78% of whom said they sympathized more with the Israelis, and Democrats, 53% of whom said they did, and Independents,56% of whom said so. Many Jewish Democrats who support Israel strongly assume that Republicans are much less inclined to do so than their fellow partisans, and once upon a time, back in the years just after Harry Truman recognized Israel’s independence, that was probably the case. It’s not true any longer. American opponents of siding with Israel now come primarily from the left side of the political spectrum.
An appreciation of this trend may help to explain the rise in Republican party identification among Jewish Americans. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2011 the percentage of Jews identifying themselves as Republican or leaning Republican was 29%, up from 20% in 2008. This was similar to the percentage rise among white Catholics (from 41% to 49%) and Mormons (from 68% to 80%). Those last figures may represent an appreciation that two Mormons were campaigning for the Republican nomination for president and don’t have much national significance; Utah is going to go Republican in any case. But Jews and white Catholics are heavily concentrated in the suburbs of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas where, as I speculated in my March 11 Examiner column, Mitt Romney may run much better than Republican presidential candidates have been running for the last 20 years. Maybe feelings about Israel—and perceptions that the Obama administration and the Democratic party generally are less pro-Israel than Republicans—account for some small part of this apparent trend. Jewish voters have helped produce Democratic majorities in Oakland County, Michigan, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, Florida, and Bergen County, New Jersey. If they swing toward Republicans as the Pew poll suggests, this would make it harder for Barack Obama to carry these states as he did in 2008.