A Partisan Divide Over Israel? Not Really.
Recent polls notwithstanding, Republicans and Democrats remain largely in lockstep when it comes to U.S. policy toward Israel.
For most of the post World War II era, support for Israel inside the United States has been one of the few foreign policy issues, indeed, one of the few issues at all, that largely has united Democrats and Republicans. Yes, there was a wing of the Democratic Party that was sympathetic to the Palestinian cause that started to emerge in the 1970s, but it has been, and remains, a fairly small part of that party. For the most part, you hear the same strong support from Republican politicians that you hear from Democratic politicians, and politicians from both sides of the aisle appear regularly at events like the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. to voice their support for Israeli policies. Whether they are genuine or not, these kinds of public displays of support, as well as an American foreign policy that is generally pro-Israel, is seen as a required part of American politics. A new Pew Research Poll shows, though, when you look beneath the surface, there are some real differences of opinion on Israel between Republicans and Democrats:
As violence between Israel and Hamas continues, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that American sympathies lie firmly with the Israelis – 51 percent say they sympathize more with Israel, while 14 percent say they favor the Palestinians. These numbers remain little changed since 1978.
But these aggregate figures mask a considerable partisan difference on the issue. 73 percent of Republicans favor the Israeli side, compared to 44 percent of Democrats, and 45 percent of Independents. Moreover, this partisan gap has widened considerably since 1978, when the gap between Republicans and Democrats was only 5 percentage points.
This chart shows quite well how the partisan gap has grown over the years:
Ed Morrissey doesn’t think there’s much for Israel to worry about when it comes to this gap:
That dramatic increase may end up being worrisome to Israel in the long run. The US has a long history of bipartisanship when it comes to our alliance with Israel, even though some members of both parties have criticized it for various reasons. If this becomes another issue of partisanship testing, that will not benefit Israel, nor would it benefit our own politics.
On the other hand, every demographic in the survey has a plurality sympathizing with Israel by a wide margin. Even among the lowest levels of sympathy for Israel — liberal Democrats and religiously unaffiliated — the margins are double-digit at 39/21 and 36/20. There are substantial differences about the level of sympathy in the age demos, but not the balance of sympathy. The youngest demo, 18-29YOs, favor Israel 2:1 at 44/22, while among seniors it rises to 60/9.
If you want to explain the partisan gap that the Pew Research poll finds, I think the best explanation can be found by looking at what’s going on inside the Republican Party. Unlike the Democrats, there isn’t really any strong wing inside the GOP that can be fairly be said to be heavily critical of Israel or Israeli policies. The closest one can come to that, I suppose, are the people who have gravitated around former Congressman Ron Paul, but its worth noting that Paul’s son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, has openly separated himself from many of the policy positions that these people, and even his own father, take when it comes to Israel. What does exist inside the GOP, of course, is a very strong evangelical movement that is arguably even more pro-Israel than many American Jews. For these people, support for Israel is based not on geopolitics but on their religious beliefs and the role that Israel plays in the Bible and, for some, the Book of Revelation. Given their prevalence inside the Republican Party, it’s not surprise that we’d see Republicans in general as much more supportive of Israel than Democrats. The fortunate thing is that, for the most part, Republican foreign policy in the Middle East has historically tended to ignore irrational people like them.
As for the issue of the divide itself, I tend to think Morrissey is largely correct. As I noted above, there has always been some part of the Democratic Party that has tended to be more critical of Israeli policies for the past four decades or so. During that time, though ,we’ve had three Democratic Presidents and they have all been what can be described as generally “pro-Israeli” in their policies and public statements. Those Democratic Presidents have also been more aggressive about trying to pursue peace negotiations, of course, and met with limited degrees of success, but for the most part there has not been any real difference in the policies of Democratic Presidents toward Israel and the policies of Republican Presidents toward Israel. That seems unlikely to change at any point in the foreseeable future, especially given the close relationship between the American and Israeli militaries and the fact that Israel is one of the biggest international customers for the American defense industry. More importantly, though, it is still true that the American relationship with Israel serves American national interests. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t criticize them when criticism is warranted, but as with any other ally it seems clear that we have more in common with Israel than we have differences, and because of that we are likely to maintain a largely “pro-Israel” policy in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.
H/T Andrew Sullivan
While it’s patently obvious how the relationship serves Israeli interests, I’m sorry if I have a hard time seeing how our support of Israel is advantageous to the United States. If anything it makes our interactions with a number of other nations around the round much more difficult than they might be otherwise.
Anyone else remember the 2012 Democratic Convention kerfluffle over the part of the platform that concerned Israel?
Tell that to Netanyahu. He didn’t have to insert himself into our elections, but he did, and most agree he did so on behalf of a Republican opponent. So claiming it’s becoming a partisanship test here on its own is ignorant at best.
I have to wonder how many people answer a poll like this honestly.
The partisan divide over Israel is even greater than that poll shows. Look at the passion on the issue. For the Republicans who support Israel, and the Democrats who support Palestine, this is a vital issue. Remove the Jewish Democrats from the data, and you’ll find very few Democrats who are strongly pro-Israel.
Isn’t that cherry picking the data? Remove a group who is likely to support something from the set of supporters, and the set of supporters grows smaller. This is very basic set theory actually – it applies to any finite set (but not necessarily to infinite sets, oddly enough – removing all odd numbers from the set of integers doesn’t make the set smaller)..
I doubt it’s that simple. For one, there just aren’t that many American Jews, let alone Jewish Democrats.
Odd, that is hard to discern what American interests are served. Domestic political ones perhaps. Relative to your relations in that neighbourhood, including relative to democraticly inclined factions that might otherwise be more positively inclined to USA, well no it does not serve you well at all.
Nothing wrong with picking cherries. Ever eat an entire cherry tree? Terrible. You’re better off looking for the cherries, and eating those.
I’m talking about passion. On the liberal side you have activists who are pro-Palestine, Jewish activists who are mostly pro-Israel, and a lot of people who aren’t worked up about it. On the conservative side, you have libertarian activists who are functionally pro-Palestine by being anti-interventionist, Christian activists who are staunchly pro-Israel, and again a lot of people who aren’t worked up about it. The weight of the passion on the liberal side is pro-Palestine, and the weight of the passion on the conservative side is pro-Israel.
Whether I get a downvote for saying this or not, the Democratic Party has increasingly become the home of the secularist. They identify the Palestinian cause with civil rights and see Israel as apartheid. That’s passion. The Republican Party Christian identifies Israel with religious freedom and sees Palestine as terrorist. That’s passion too – religious passion, no less.
then remove all the evangelicals from the republlican set and watch republican support for Israel fall
Interesting from the graph that Democratic support for Israel has fluctuated around 50% give or take. It is increasing Republican support that has driven the growing difference. I’m guessing it is the increased importance of evangelicals in the Republican coalition that has caused this.
You are missing the point.
Remember, only Jews, African Americans and Hispanics are democrats. That and slutty women.
That’s what helps Pinky sleep at night so we really shouldn’t screw around with her and SuperDestroyer’s reality.
But whatever you do don’t dare call them racists.
@Pinky: How many Democrats are there that passionately support Palestine? Judging by the fact that the strongest voices of the left flank of the Democratic party, Sanders and Warren, are both passionately pro-Israeli, not many at all. To the extent there is a pro-Palestinian constituency in American politics, it largely exists outside the Democratic party, and is extremely contemptuous towards it.
Now if Bibi and his mini-mes back in Israel continue to ally Israel with the Republicans, this might change in the future, but you are seriously jumping the gun.
@Tillman: Well, there aren’t that many American Jews, but 70-80% of us are Democrats. It is a major point of ethnic pride..
@Grewgills: i doubt it, people trust Israel a bit more than anything muslim. there’s some who could give a damn that Israel is jewish, as long as they kill muslims it’s a ok with them.
to counter that there’s those who think that our backing of Israel is what makes muslims hate us- a cowardly assumption as muslims hate us no matter what we do.
@Davebo: Intelligent people were having an honest disagreement and discussion.
@Pinky: Yeah, intelligent people were having a discussion.
The evangelicals are the strongest supporters of Israel in the Republican party, in fact they are probably the most vocal supporters of Israel in the US. Assuming that moving them out of the Republican coalition wouldn’t lower average Republican support of Israel requires some mighty big blinders.
Pinky’s earlier comment singled out a much smaller part of the Democratic coalition as the strong supporters of Israel. My comment was meant to highlight that his tactic was two edged.
We call those people sociopaths and bigots.
To be fair, white heterosexual men like myself are statistically more likely to be Republican.
Surely they hate us even more when they hear idiotic observations like this one and think such observations represent how we feel…presumably most of them are a lot smarter than you and don’t think that such stupidity represents all or even most of the American people…
Meanwhile, it’s just so lovely that American foreign policy in the Middle East is so influenced by evangelicals and Israelis who are playing each other for fools…
Is it not possible for people to support Israel AND Palestine? Perhaps that clashes with your simplistic view…
Remove the Republicans who support Israel from the data, and you’ll find very few Republicans who are strongly pro-Israel.
Very true. Jews make up about 1-2% tops of the US population. Similarly, they make up about 1-2% of the Democratic Party.
Please name one — just one — prominent elected Democratic officeholder or appointed official who supports Palestine.
Perhaps there is some clarity involved in having you boil things down to naked, ignorant religious and ethnic bigotry driving popular American policy attitudes.
@Jeremy: And what were you having when you typed this, a bowel movement?
I always found the support for Israel by evangelicals odd, as it’s based on their desire for Armageddon, and the end of the world as we know it. That clashes greatly with their often proclaimed patriotism. Alas, the kingdom of the lord will probably fly a red white and blue flag, so all is good.
You’re probably right about the weight of passion on both scores. I’m not so sure that it matters as much as you seem to feel it does, at least in terms of the left. Most progressives I’ve talked to take the view that both sides in the conflict are at fault (or better said, that leadership on both sides are at fault). Roughly one in ten progressives is very strongly pro-Palestinian, one in twenty very strongly pro-Israel (you need only read the letters in progressive sites like Salon or Slate to see that, and the ratio), net gain pro-Pal, but the numbers are so small that it doesn’t have much influence (as the US policy during Democratic presidencies shows.
A lot of passion from a few people doesn’t do much, when 90% of progressives are unenthusiastic about either side, especially since those who feel strongly (either way) tend not to be influential members of the Democratic Party.
That is different than the right, who’s passionate members (on this topic) tend to include elected people and party leaders – there the passion has influence.
@Mu: I always read that online, that evangelicals are trying to initiate the end times by supporting Israel. I’ve never met an evangelical who thinks that way. I see three reasons behind the evangelical support of Israel. First is religious freedom. This goes back to Reagan and the Soviet refusal to let Jews emigrate. Second is a feeling of kinship – this can be condescending at times, but evangelicals consider Jews to be incomplete Christians. Third, increasingly I see evangelicals who depict this as an us-versus-them situation, with the barbarians at the gates.
There are many evangelicals who are excited to think that we’re in the end times. (There always are.) I’ve never heard them express a desire to speed things up. They believe that there will be a widespread conversion of the Jews before the Second Coming, and they’re interested in converting the Jews, but they’re also interested in converting everyone else. I’ve known quite a few evangelicals who’ve gone on pilgirmages to the Holy Land, and several who’ve gone on missions (mostly to Central America and Africa) but I’ve never known anyone who’s gone on a mission to the Holy Land.
Now remember, the existence of something on the internet is not proof of its widespread existence in the world. I’m sure you can find some crackpot who thinks that we should support Israel to cause the end of the world. You can find someone who will say the same thing about Taco Bell Doritos. I’m not an evangelical, but I’ve known plenty, and attended more functions than most people, and I just don’t see any evidence that a good number of evangelicals support Israel in order to prompt the Apocalypse.
Show me one politician ten years ago who publicly supported gay marriage. My whole point is that by looking at the activists, let’s say at the college campus divestment rallies, you can get a sense of where the Overton window may be headed. As for supporting Palestine, there’ definitely been a shift in recent years in favor of the two-state solution and recognition of the PA.
@Pinky: I’m sure the average evangelical has no interest whatsoever in becoming personal witness to an end time scenario. And my personal interaction with that crowd is limited, for some reason my opinions don’t go over well there and we never get into those more spiritual discussions. I’m strictly going by what their self appointed spokesmen pronounce, and, as with all non-hierarchical groups, that gives the loudest the voice, not necessary the wisest or most respected.
I think one of the key problems here is that just like “secure the border,” being “pro-Israel” means absolutely nothing on it’s own. To that point:
If — and I’m not saying you are suggesting this — favoring a two state solution and a recognition of a validity to some Palestinian claims is “anti-Israel”, then I completely agree that the Democratic party is, as a whole, less pro-Israel than the Republicans.
However, that seems to push us towards a pretty cartoonish version of “support.”
You are right, I am “pro-Palestine.”
If you mean by pro-Palestine, that I am opposed to blowing up young children who are threatening Israel by playing on the beach.
So no reed is too thin to grasp, as long as it can be used to attempt to portray Democrats in a negative light?
Israel is a millstone around America’s neck.
You could argue that that is actually a pro-Israel/pro-Palestinian stance, rather than being anti-Israel … being ‘anti’ either involves saying they don’t have a right to nationhood. At the worst, its a neutral stance, as it says both should have the same nationhood status.
@anjin-san: You mean as opposed by those dastardly Israeli kids the cower in their bunkers to deprive the Palestinian freedom fighters of their just rewards for their glorious actions of shooting rockets from those beaches?
While most Democratic Jews “sympathize more” with Israel, not all Jews — including not all of those in Israel — support the way that Israel is treating the Palestinians in Gaza. The poll, as with most polls, reduces a complicated question to simple black and white terms.
Where did I say anything even remotely like that? There are adults on both sides of this conflict that have a lot to answer for. The children are blameless.
When you have to make things up to support your argument, you don’t have much of an argument.
@Pinky: George W. Bush, rather famously endorsed the two states solution, as did Sharon, Olmert and Bibi. If this is your example of pro-Palestinian position of the Democratic grassroots, you need to try harder.
You are however correct about the future direction of the liberal coalition- it will in all probability be much more pro-Palestinian in twenty years than it is now.
What did you think I was saying or implying? You’ve got to understand that I’m not talking pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, pro-Democrat or pro-Republican. I’m analyzing the situation as I see it. Generally on the foreign policy threads here, we can have mature conversations because the cranks don’t try to turn it into us-versus-them. We also don’t have a lot of up or down voting. Looking over this thread just now, I see that’s happened here as well. Maybe that’s why we’re not getting past the usual OTB nonsense. Anyway, I wasn’t trying to score points, and if you think I said anything that was trying to score points, you’ve misintepreted me.
@anjin-san: And thank you for helping me understand Davebo’s comment. It was a Happy Gilmore thing – he wasn’t trying to be rude, he just didn’t know the difference between golf and hockey.
I understand that that is what you are claiming to do, but when you respond to a very straightforward question like:
With a non-answer like:
You reveal yourself as one more team sports guy. Next time try an honest answer like “I can’t”
@anjin-san: The truly honest answer is “that’s beside the point if you’re talking about an Overton window”.
The “Dem vs. Rep” angle you all are pushing is the wrong one to take. Rather, I think this statement is the decisive one.
There hasn’t been a shift towards favoring the two-state solution here in the U.S. That has been implicitly or explicitly U.S. policy since at least 2001. (There is some debate over whether Obama has made it more explicit, but that’s not the topic at hand.) Every negotiation we’ve had to outline a peace process in the past has been aimed at a two-state solution.
If this is over window shifts, then the real debate is in Israeli politics. Netanyahu has, to appease the hard right in his own coalition, had to denounce the two-state solution, a position Israel has rejected on and off since the end of the Six-Day War. If this is over grassroots window shifting, then I imagine any shifts towards the two-state solution are based on the series of Israeli operations since Hamas seized Gaza. I mean, no one with intimate knowledge or scholarship of this has a bright outlook on it, or ever has.
Y’know, I used to frequent an alternative news site back in my more conspiracy-minded days, and I gotta say, the level of evidence needed to try-and-convict a dude there for spreading disinformation/reading the talking points/subversively undermining one power structure or another/what-have-you is eerily similar to the level needed on this more modest and mainstream of blogs.
And we’re talking the kind of site where someone accused an A-list commenter of being a social media infiltrator working for the CIA to disrupt nonconventional reporting and discussion in the populace. Devoted, like, a ten page-ish blog post about it.
Holy crap, I can actually still get to it through Google. “I just don’t think a CIA asset would spend his time debating people about creationism.” lmao
That has not been my experience at all. The most common reason given that I have heard from evangelicals, charismatics, et al has been that they are the chosen people and god gave them that land so it is theirs. That is somewhat tied in to them being not quite Christian and a sort of condescending kinship. The us against them, them being Muslims, has been secondary though that has increased over the past 13 years. Religious freedom is not a reason I have heard given often and then only as a sort of after the fact rationalization. The end times stuff I have heard from some fire and brimstone types and grifting tv preachers, but it isn’t generally specifically stated as a reason with the evangelicals that I know.
In the end it boils down to the Bible said it’s theirs so it’s theirs in the minds of most of that cohort. They don’t need any other reason and any other reasons are post hoc rationalizations.
I’m a Jew, I’ve long been a supporter of Israel, but I have run out of excuses for these Likud criminals. Netanyahu is the moral equal of Vladimir Putin and Likud are militaristic bullies with no interest in peace and nothing but contempt for the friend that has kept Israel alive.
By the way, the reason Israel lost Israel to begin with was Jewish intolerance with regard to the Romans and any religion not their own. There’s a history there of dickish behavior toward superpowers. They were stupid and reckless then and they are stupid and reckless now.
You are a good Jew.
Republicans don´t support Israel because of the Evangelicals, they support Israel because Israel is the ultimate colonial venture. I don´t see Movement Conservatives praising Israel on religious grounds, but on colonial grounds. That´s why we see so many emails about the Nobel Prizes of Jews and Muslims, or something like that.
@michael reynolds: I think this has been true for a 2,000+ years. Like the Romansh they refused to assimilate into what ever society they found themselves in. Here on the left coast they have for the most part assimilated in part because the wealthy professional Jews married beautiful blue eyed blond haired women. I grew up with the children of such marriages. They had a second problem in middle ages Europe – they were the money lenders and were often driven out so people wouldn’t have to pay them back – usury (interest) was still a violation of Christian orthodoxy.
@Grewgills: I think we’re saying pretty much the same thing.
Republicans support Israel for a variety or reasons, just like Democrats do. The conservative and the liberal party in the US have supported Israel from well before this chart shows. What has changed, beginning in the 80s and solidified from the 90s till now is the importance of the religious right within the republican party. That is, IMO, the reason for the uptick in R support in that time frame. That and the rise of the neocons, who see Israel as a foothold and were hoping for a bigger foothold with Iraq.
@michael reynolds: I’m old enough and you’re almost old enough to remember when Jews had faith in the basic humanity of the major powers. During the 30’s and 40’s they trusted in German culture, the French republican tradition, British fair play, and American hospitality toward persecuted refugees. The memory of that dismal period is never far from the consciousness of most Israelis I’ve known, and it’s not far from mine.
For what it’s worth, I think the Israeli settlement policy is stupid and self-defeating. For what it’s worth, I think the Israeli response to Hamas rocket attacks is wildly disproportionate. But don’t expect me to believe that Israel or any country should rely on anybody but itself when it comes to defending its vital interests.
A very good point. I hadn’t noticed before, but Democrat support for Israel is roughly on par with what it was in ’78 while Republican support is through the roof with that chart.
Just because you haven’t meet them doesn’t mean they don’t exist…
Of course none of that is incompatible with supporting Israel…
@Grewgills: There were other changes, specially because after the Hostage Crisis in Tehran.
@An Interested Party:
Just because they exist doesn’t mean they are representative…
Wow, and here I thought that @bill’s comment would be the most offensive thing on this thread — but kudos to you, with those four simple words you really took things to another level.
This. The entire we support Jews to speed the rapture thing strikes me as one of those great “just so” stories that people embrace because it feeds their confirmations biases.
It also misses the fact that Conservative Christians see a lot of themselves (or at least think that they do) in the Conservative Jewish movement. And we shouldn’t discount the fact that while Christians have historically been antagonistic to Jews, there has been stronger antagonism with the Islamic world. In that respect, the enemy of my enemy becomes my friend.
Plus, I think we cannot address these alliances without taking into account the holocaust either.
Wow, yourself. Do you want to dissect my statement? Obviously it touched a nerve.
A queerly American narrative to explain curren
The explanatory power of old Christian-Islamic imperial tensions rather poorly explain popular 21st century politics. Europe, which actually had such experience is rather less enamoured of Israeli narratives than USA, whose Christians are hundreds of years removed from such.
No, it is peculiarly modern American domestic political/cultural dynamics, not ancient feuds that would have explanatory power.
Agreed. My goal was to start pointing at part of the American narrative — which ties into domestic politics and cultural dynanmics.
It wasn’t meant to be a complete solution or explanation by any means.
And I realize that this is inadequate to explain the totality of the Western relations with Israel or the Palestinians — let alone differences between Europe and the US.
Because this war has not been amoral enough, Israeli Professor Suggests Rape as ‘Terror Deterrent’
““The only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” This assertion was made by Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University on an Israel Radio program. “It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East,” added Kedar, of Bar-Ilan’s Department of Arabic.”
Yeah. It’s that sad.