September 18, 2006
U.S. Support for Israel on the Rise
By Peter Brown
Although there is some dispute about which side won the recent Middle East war, it is clear Israel was the victor in the battle for American public opinion. Americans were already disposed to back Israel and the war with Hezbollah only deepened those instincts.
Although the changes in U.S. public opinion are small, when the ratings for Israel, Syria, the Palestinian government and Iran are taken together, that is the unmistakable conclusion from the latest Quinnipiac University national poll.
Looking inside the data shows what some might consider a surprising partisan pattern of comparatively weaker Democratic support for Israel within the American public, given the traditional voting behavior by Jewish Americans.
Quinnipiac's every three-month survey asks Americans to rate 17 different countries on a "friend versus foe" 1-100 index, also known as a thermometer reading. The higher the number, the warmer each respondent feels toward each country.
Israel's latest mean rating was 65.9, which placed it third among the nations tested. The highest was England at 78.3, while the lowest was Iran at 13.9.
In the previous Quinnipiac thermometer reading, taken in June before the war broke out, Israel had a mean rating of 62.9. The three-point jump was the largest of any country during the three-month period.
Their latest poll of 1,080 American adults was taken Aug. 17-23, shortly after a cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, a military/political movement in Lebanon that has called for Israel's destruction.
The war began when Hezbollah ventured across the border, killed and captured Israeli soldiers. Even Arab governments generally hostile to Israel condemned Hezbollah's strike as a provocation.
But during the war, Israel's response, which included widespread bombing and ground operations within Lebanon, led to civilian casualties, as was the case in Israel from Hezbollah rocket attacks.
As the war played out, some of those same Arab nations and others in Europe - but not the Bush administration -- criticized Israel, saying its military response had been recklessly disproportionate to the initial attack.
But the data shows clearly that Israel's recent war against Hezbollah improved its standing with the American people and diminished support for the enemies of the Jewish state.
Not only did Israel's rating go up, but those of Iran and the Palestinian government dropped. In addition, Syria was added to the survey for the first time and it scored very low. All three are adamant foes of Israel.
Hezbollah was not included in the survey because it is not a government, but there is no doubt the low scores for its allies reflect Americans' negative views of it also.
The Palestinians dropped from a June score of 25 to 22.8., Iran fell to 13.9 from 16.9, and Syria had a mean rating of 21.7. Along with North Korea, which had a mean rating of 15, the three Israeli enemies were considered the four least friendly nations in the world by the American people.
There was a pattern in the United States to the pro-Israeli, anti-Syria, Palestinian, Iran feeling.
Israel is given higher ratings by Republicans (70.9) and independents (68.1) than by Democrats (60). That might be surprising to some, since Jewish voters in the United States tend to vote Democratic by an almost 2-to1 margin.
Israel's foes also score slightly better among Democrats than Republicans or independents.
Israel's rating is substantially higher among men (71.9), than it is among women (60.5). It does slightly better among white evangelical Christians (68.6) and white Roman Catholics (67) than it does among Americans overall. In recent years, support for Israel has become a trademark position of conservative Christian political candidates and leaders within the United States.
The data indicate that those who see the Bush Administration's unwavering support for Israel as a potential domestic political liability might be wise to think again.
Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org