The Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, and the ensuing Israeli attacks in Gaza have captured global attention. How has the war affected American public attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue broadly?
To probe the issue, the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll with Ipsos asked several questions focused on the role of the United States and the perception of the Biden administration. The poll did not directly ask about attitudes toward the war itself but probed any shifts in public attitudes on the Israeli-Palestinian issue broadly. It was fielded October 20-22 among 1,021 respondents using Ipsos’ probability-based KnowledgePanel with a margin of error of 3.3%.
It’s been over three weeks since Hamas attacked, but the poll was conducted at the end of the second week of the war. It is noteworthy that after the Hamas attack, there was unanimous official U.S. sympathy with and support for Israel, expressed loudly by the White House and Congress. Institutional statements of sympathy for Israel and condemnation of the attack were also evident across American society, including even, illustratively, moments of silence held at the start of National Football League games. The ensuing Israeli attacks initially received only muted official criticism but led to more criticism from some segments of American society, including public demonstrations. As the war in Gaza expanded, more criticisms of Israeli action emerged, particularly in the past week, after the poll was completed. Public attitudes are thus likely evolving, which we will try to capture in the coming weeks.
Here are three takeaways:
First, public opinion on U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue remains divided along partisan lines, with an increasing majority of Republicans wanting the United States to lean toward Israel, while a declining majority of Democrats wants the United States to lean toward neither side. Those who want to lean toward Israel increased since last June, the last time we asked about this issue.
A majority of Republicans, 71.9%, say they want the United States to lean toward Israel, compared with 47.3% in June, while a majority of Democrats, 57.4%, said they wanted the United States to lean toward neither side, a drop from 73.4% in June. A 53.6% majority of independents also wanted the United States to lean toward neither side, a drop from 71.4% in June.
While those who wanted the United States to take the Palestinians’ side remained relatively constant since June, those who wanted the United States to lean toward Israel increased not only among Republicans but also among Democrats, going from 13.7% in June to 30.9% in October; it also increased among independents, going from 20.8% in June to 37.9% in October.
It is notable that there was no statistically significant change in the attitudes of young Democrats (under 35). In June, 14% wanted to lean toward Israel, and this increased to 14.7% in October; 17% wanted to lean toward the Palestinians in June compared to 16.2% in October. Among young Republicans and independents, however, there were significant increases among those wanting to lean toward Israel, but also smaller increases among those wanting to lean toward the Palestinians. Overall, a majority of young Americans, 54.5%, wanted the United States to lean toward neither side.
Second, more respondents, including more Democrats and independents, say President Joe Biden is “too pro-Israeli” than say he is “too pro-Palestinian,” while a plurality says his position is “about right.” At the same time, more Republicans say Biden is too pro-Palestinian than say he is too pro-Israeli.
It is notable that 40% of respondents say they don’t know if Biden is too pro-Palestinian or too pro-Israeli. Among Republicans, 8% say Biden is too pro-Israeli, 26% say he is too pro-Palestinian, and 26% say his position is “about right.” Among Democrats, 24.4% say he is too pro-Israel, 1.2% say he is too pro-Palestinian, and 36.4% say his position is about right. Among independents, 22.3% say Biden is too pro-Israel, 9.5% say he is too pro-Palestinian, and 27.8% say his position is about right.
As we have found in the past, those who say that the president favors one side or the other sometimes include those who want the United States to take that side — but that they think the president is doing it more so than they prefer. For example, among Democrats who say Biden is too pro-Israeli, 14.8% also say they want the United States to lean toward Israel. These findings reinforced previous polls where we probed if the public believed that American presidents, including Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and their members of Congress, tended to lean toward one side or the other more than the respondents themselves tended to do.
Third, more respondents say that Biden’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue makes them “less likely” (30.9%) than “more likely” (14.2%) to vote for Biden if the presidential elections were held today.
Not surprisingly, slightly more than half of respondents, 52.8%, said Biden’s policy on the issue won’t affect the way they would vote. Attitudes are divided along partisan lines, with 28.4% of Democrats saying they are more likely to vote for Biden and 10.8% saying less likely, while 57.6% of Republicans say they would be less likely to vote for Biden compared to 3.2% who would be more likely to vote for him.
Overall, these could be worrisome numbers for Biden: One can assume that Republican voters are likely to vote against him regardless, even if they may be more energized to do so because of his stance on Israel/Palestine. Note for example that while only 26% of Republicans say Biden is too pro-Palestinian and 8% say he is too pro-Israeli, 57.6% say his stance would make them less likely to vote for Biden. Meanwhile, 34.7% of those Republicans who said they are less likely to vote for Biden based on his position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue also said they didn’t know if Biden was too pro-Palestinian or too pro-Israeli.
The numbers to watch thus are those of Democrats and independents. Democrats are not likely to vote for Biden’s Republican opponents, but some may be less energized than others, and some may sit out the election. The fact that 10.8% of Democrats say they would be less likely to vote for the Democratic president seems relatively small, but it could be problematic in a close election. There has been speculation about the impact of minority dissent over the war among Democratic progressives, especially young Democrats on the presidential election. And the president’s simultaneous drop in popularity among Democrats has raised questions about possible connections to the war. The attitudes of certain segments of the public that matter in specific states, such as those of Arab and Muslim Americans, are not captured in this national poll. But there have been reports of possible impacts on the presidential election.
The results among independents could also be of concern for Biden. 28.3% say they would be less likely to vote for him, compared to 14.5% who would be more likely to vote for him.
As the war in Israel and Gaza rages, the level of civilian deaths and destruction is likely to keep the story prominent in the U.S. public and foreign policy discourse for some time to come. U.S. public attitudes are likely to continue to be affected.
While the initial focus was almost entirely on the toll inflicted by Hamas on Israeli civilians, which generated sympathy across the United States, the Israeli bombings of Gaza and the civilian toll among Palestinians have begun to shift attitudes among key constituencies. There was measurable change across the partisan divide, except among young Democrats.
Despite the change in degree, attitudes continue to be divided along partisan lines, with a majority of Republicans wanting the United States to take Israel’s side, while majorities of Democrats and independents want the United States to take neither side. As our presidential election season intensifies, the division in attitudes on this issue will likely remain or even intensify.
It is too early to tell if the initial increase in the number of Americans wanting to take Israel’s side will be sustained or will shift again in the coming days, based on reports and images from the war. We will continue to track these attitudes in the weeks ahead.