While Republicans continue to be strong supporters of the Israeli government and people, a growing cohort of younger Republicans no longer view Israel’s government favorably, according to a Pew Research Center survey released on Wednesday.

The survey showed that Republicans over the age of 65 are the only age group in which a majority (57%) have a favorable view of the Israeli government. Among the youngest adults (those younger than 30), just 27% view Israel’s government favorably.
Younger Republicans also have less favorable views of the Israeli people – and more favorable views of the Palestinian people – than older Republicans. Nearly half of Republicans and Republican leaners under 30 (48%) have a favorable opinion of the Palestinian people, compared with 30% of those 30 and older.

There are more modest age differences among Democrats. In every age group, they are more favorable toward the Palestinian people than are their Republican peers, according to the report.

“We see a massive decline among young Americans in support for Israel, and this is strong among both Republicans and Democrats,” said Amnon Cavari, a lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. “This trend is something important to watch.”

Percentage of Americans who have very/somewhat favorable views of the Israeli people, Palestinian people, Israeli government and/or Palestinian government. (Credit: Pew Research Center)Percentage of Americans who have very/somewhat favorable views of the Israeli people, Palestinian people, Israeli government and/or Palestinian government. (Credit: Pew Research Center)

He told The Jerusalem Post that individuals reach “political maturation” and develop their views of the world between the ages of 18 and 25. “To have that cohort being so critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinians in this conflict means we will see this shift for a long time,” Cavari explained. “In addition, we see that young Americans are more involved and more influential in politics in recent years.”

Cavari specializes in American politics, with specific research interests in the presidency, public opinion and political parties, and the relationship between them.

In general, the Pew survey found that most Democrats and Republicans have favorable views of the Israeli people. However, when it comes to the Israeli government, there are large partisan differences.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more likely, by nearly two-to-one, to have a favorable view of Israel’s government (61% for favorable vs. 32% unfavorable). In contrast, two-thirds of Democrats view Israel’s government unfavorably, while just 26% have a favorable opinion.

AS EXPECTED, Evangelical Christians are the most supportive of Israel’s government, with 73% of Evangelical Republicans vs. 55% of non-Evangelicals expressing a favorable opinion about the government.

This survey also found that when it comes to the treatment of Israelis and Palestinians by US President Donald Trump, around half of Americans think the president is “striking about the right balance” in dealing with the two sides. Roughly one-third (34%) say Trump favors the Israelis, while just 6% believe he favors the Palestinians.

Here, too, there are partisan gaps. Few Republicans say that Trump is favoring either the Israelis (11%) or the Palestinians (3%), but rather that he is striking the right balance in his approach to the Middle East. Some 84% of conservative Republicans and 73% of moderate and liberal ones agree that Trump is taking the right approach to the conflict.

Democrats, however, are more divided. Some 43% of moderate and conservative Democrats say he favors the Israelis and 38% say he is striking the right balance. But some 55% of liberal Democrats say he is favoring the Israelis too much.

Almost two-thirds of the American public (64%) have a favorable view of Israel’s people, while less than half (46%) have a positive view of the Palestinian people. The partisan gap is smaller here than expected.

As indicated, due to the views of young Republicans and in contrast to the overwhelming margin by which Republicans sympathized with Israel more than with the Palestinians in previous studies, Republican opinions about the Palestinians are perhaps not as negative as one might expect. Some 34% of Republicans express a favorable opinion of the Palestinian people versus 58% of Democrats.

Collectively, just 19% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Palestinian government.

The survey was conducted between April 1 and 15 and surveyed 10,523 adults on the Center’s American Trends Panel, a nationally representative panel of randomly selected US adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

ACCORDING TO a release by the Pew Research Center, there was a major shift in how respondents were asked to evaluate their views on Israelis, Palestinians and their governing bodies this year.

Since 1993 – and most recently, last year – the center asked a different question on this topic: “In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, which side do you sympathize with more, Israel or the Palestinians?”

“This question was valuable because it allowed us to track changes in public attitudes on an important issue,” the center explained. “Yet it was imperfect in two respects: It presented a choice of sympathies between a country [Israel] and a people [the Palestinians]. In addition, it did not include response options for those who may have sympathy for both Israel and the Palestinians, or for neither side.”

The release explained that relatively large shares of Americans volunteered to Pew that they sympathized with both Israel and the Palestinians or neither one, while many others did not express an opinion. Last year, 38% of adults fell into one of these three categories.

In the sympathies question last year, nearly half of Democrats and Democratic leaners (48%) did not sympathize with either Israel or the Palestinians, compared with just 19% of Republicans. The new survey narrows this gap by nearly 10%.

“Even with the shift to favorability versus sympathies, we still see a gap and decline in support among specific groups,” said Cavari. “There has been a slow trend over the last 15 years in which we are seeing Republicans increasing support for Israel and Democrats decreasing support for Israel. These Democrats are not necessarily going toward the Palestinians but are becoming ambivalent about the issue.”

He called the underlying trends “alarming.”

“Right now, we have a Republican president who has been extremely supportive of Israel and close to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” he said. “This may change this election or the following election. I cannot remember a Congress in 20, 30 or even 40 years that had such a vocal debate over Israel, including a few vocal, new members of Congress.”

“We also see it with the Democratic candidates that are thinking of running for president or already running,” he continued. “The results of the survey show why they are criticizing Israel. The people who vote in the primaries are strong Democrats and they are even more critical of Israel than what we see in the survey. 

That’s why we see Democratic candidates who are unapologetically taking a stand that is critical of Israel: questioning what Israel is about, questioning Israeli democracy.”

Nonetheless, he said he believes America still largely stands with the Jewish state. Cavari said that among American Democrats and Republicans, “we see a lot more support for Israel compared to all other countries in the world.”