Republicans and Religious Americans Most Sympathetic to Israel

by Frank Newport and Joseph Carroll

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans have shown significantly higher sympathy for the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict for many years. Gallup has asked Americans, "In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?" 27 times since 1988. The exact percentages of responses to the question have varied over time, but in all instances the Israelis have generated more sympathy than the Palestinians.

In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?

Israelis

Palestinians

BOTH (vol.)

NEITHER
(vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2006 Feb 6-9

59

15

5

13

8

2005 Feb 7-10

52

18

7

12

11

2004 Feb 9-12

55

18

7

12

8

2003 May 19-21

46

16

12

14

12

2003 Feb 3-6

58

13

6

11

12

2002 Sep 2-4

47

14

6

19

14

2002 Jun 21-23

49

14

8

19

10

2002 May 20-22

49

15

7

19

10

2002 Apr 22-24

47

13

9

18

13

2002 Apr 5-7

50

15

9

17

9

2002 Mar 8-9

43

14

6

20

17

2002 Feb 4-6

55

14

6

14

11

2001 Dec 14-16

51

14

5

17

13

2001 Sep 14-15

55

7

4

20

14

2001 Aug 10-12

41

13

7

18

21

2001 Feb 1-4

51

16

7

14

12

2000 Oct 13-14

41

11

9

18

21

2000 Jul 6-9

41

14

5

18

22

2000 Jan 25-26

43

13

5

21

18

1999 Jul 22-25

43

12

11

19

15

1998 Dec 4-6

46

13

5

22

14

1997 Aug 12-13

38

8

5

19

30

1996 Nov 21-24

38

15

6

14

27

1993 Sep 10-12

42

15

6

17

20

1991 Feb

64

7

19

--

10

1989 Aug

50

14

15

--

21

1988 May 13-15

37

15

22

--

27

(vol.) = Volunteered response

May 1988-April 2002 and February 3-6, 2003 WORDING: In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinian Arabs?

The highest level of sympathy for the Israelis (64%) came in 1991 during the first Persian Gulf War. The lowest was in 1988 and at two points in 1996 and 1997, when just 37% and 38%, respectively, favored the Israelis. There has never a great level of support for the Palestinians, sympathies for whom have ranged only between a low point of 7% in 1991 to 18% in the recent years of 2004 and 2005. The percentage of Americans who can be considered neutral (have no opinion, or say they are sympathetic to both sides or neither side) has ranged widely between 26% and 54%.

The analysis presented here looks at the way in which sympathies in the Middle East vary among selected subgroups of the population today. For the most part, the analysis uses a large sample of over 5,000 respondents created by aggregating five surveys in which the "sympathies" question was asked since February 2002.

(One note: It is reasonable to assume that sympathies for the Israelis would be highest among Jewish Americans, but the small size of the Jewish population in America today -- roughly 2% -- means that there is not a large enough sample in this analysis to document that presumption).

Political Differences

Republicans are much more sympathetic toward Israelis than are independents or Democrats.

Seventy-two percent of Republicans say they sympathize with the Israelis, while 11% sympathize with the Palestinians. This compares with 47% of Democrats who sympathize more with the Israelis and 20% who sympathize more with the Palestinians. Among independents, 49% sympathize more with the Israelis and 16% with the Palestinians.

It's clear that while independents and Democrats are significantly less likely to side with the Israelis than are Republicans, they are at the same time not more likely to side with the Palestinians. Independents and Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to have no opinion, or to indicate that they do not favor one side or the other in the Middle East.

Ideological Differences

Conservatives are more sympathetic toward the Israelis than are moderates or liberals. Two in three conservatives sympathize with the Israelis. This sentiment is lower among moderates (52%) and liberals (43%).

There is somewhat more of a "mirror image" increase in support for the Palestinians among liberals than there is among Democrats, compared to conservatives and Republicans, respectively. Sympathy with the Israelis declines from 67% to 43% between conservatives and liberals, while sympathy for the Palestinians climbs from 11% to 25%.

Partisan and ideological subgroups can be combined into more fine-tuned categories: conservative Republicans, moderate and liberal Republicans, conservative Democrats, moderate Democrats, and liberal Democrats.

As would be expected from the analyses presented above, sympathies for the Israelis are highest among conservative Republicans, with 78% saying they are sympathetic toward the Israelis. Sympathies for the Palestinians are highest among liberal and conservative Democrats, with 23% support.

Still, at least a plurality of each partisan/ideological segment is more sympathetic to the Israelis than toward the Palestinians. The smallest gap of 20 percentage points (sympathies for Israelis minus sympathies for the Palestinians) is among liberal Democrats; the largest gap of 71% is among conservative Republicans.

Race Differences

Fifty-eight percent of whites say they sympathize with the Israelis, while just 14% sympathize more with the Palestinians. Among blacks, just 40% side with the Israelis, while 24% side with the Palestinians. This 16 percentage-point gap among blacks is among the lowest for any identifiable subgroup in this analysis.

Age Differences

Sympathies in the Middle East situation show only minor differences among people of different age groups.

Gender Differences

Men are more likely than women to say they sympathize with the Israelis (60% vs. 52%). This difference, however, is almost totally a result of the fact that women are more likely than men to take a neutral stance on the Middle East situation.

Education

Americans with only a high school education or less are slightly more likely to be in the neutral category than those with more education. But the basic pattern of sympathies is very similar across all education categories. A significant majority of Americans, regardless of educational attainment, favor the Israelis and less than 20% favor the Palestinians, regardless of education level.

Region

Sympathies for Israelis tend to be slightly higher in the South, at 61%, but the basic patterns of sympathies are not highly different, regardless of region.

Religion

There has been some discussion of the relationship between evangelical Christians and support for Israel, based on the idea that Israel figures prominently in the Bible, and to some, is part of a prophecy foretold in the book of Revelation in the New Testament.

The Gallup polls in which the Middle East sympathies question has been asked over recent years have not typically included a measure of a respondent's religious identification, forestalling in-depth investigation of this hypothesis. The most recent 2006 survey did include religious identification, however, and an analysis of the data show interesting patterns. Given that blacks tend to be very religious and tend to identify themselves more with the Democratic party, this table displays data among white respondents only.

Middle East Sympathies, by Religious Preference
Feb. 6-9 2006

Israelis

Palestinians

Both/Neither/
Don't know

%

%

%

White Protestants/
other Christians

63

14

22

White Catholics

64

13

23

White other religions

66

10

24

White no religion

45

19

36

The interesting finding here is the similarity of attitudes toward Israelis and the Palestinians across all three groups of whites who have a religious identification, and the drop off in sympathy for Israelis and the increase in "both/neither/don't know" and, to a slight degree, sympathy for the Palestinians among the group of whites who have no religion. White Catholics are no different than white Protestants and whites who identify with other non-Catholic religions.

Religiosity as Measured by Church Attendance

The recent surveys used in the broader aggregate of interviews conducted from 2002 through 2006 did include self-reported measures of church attendance. This allows for the investigation of the relationship between religiosity and sympathies in the Middle East.

As can be seen, sympathy for the Israelis is highest among those who attend church weekly, almost weekly, and monthly. Sympathy for the Israelis drops off among those who seldom attend and is lowest among those who never attend. Although sympathy for the Palestinians rises slightly among those who seldom or never attend church, the percentages for who say they have no opinion or who favor both sides or neither side also rise among this group.

One would hypothesize that since Republicans are more sympathetic than independents or Democrats to Israelis in the Middle East situation, then the most religious Republicans would be even more sympathetic to Israelis. The data presented below confirm this hypothesis. Frequent churchgoers who are Republicans have the highest levels of sympathy to Israelis, and are more sympathetic to Israelis than infrequent churchgoers who are Republicans. The same difference by church attendance exists among independents, but the difference by frequency of church attendance is much lower among Democrats.

Middle East Sympathies, by Frequency in Church Attendance,
by Partisan Groups
2002-2006 Aggregate

Israelis

Palestinians

Both/Neither/
Don't know

%

%

%

Republicans

Frequent churchgoers

77

7

15

Infrequent churchgoers

66

15

19

Independents

Frequent churchgoers

56

14

29

Infrequent churchgoers

44

18

37

Democrats

Frequent churchgoers

49

19

32

Infrequent churchgoers

45

22

32

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 5,024 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted across five polls from February 2002 through February 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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