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Americans' Support for Israel Strong, Poll Shows

Most Americans say they sympathize “a lot” (34%) or “some” (32%) with Israel, after seven weeks of fighting in Gaza.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 8/28/2014, 10:50 PM

Defeat Jihad ad in New York subway
Defeat Jihad ad in New York subway
AFP/File

Most Americans say they sympathize “a lot” (34%) or “some” (32%) with Israel, while roughly a quarter sympathize with Israel “not much” (15%) or “not at all” (12%), according to a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll

There is less public sympathy for the Palestinians: 11% sympathize with Palestinians a lot, though 35% have some sympathy for them. Nearly half say they have little (20%) or no sympathy (27%) for the Palestinians.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted August 20-24 among 1,501 adults, finds little change in opinions about how President Barack Obama is handling the situation in the Middle East. Currently, 49% say Obama is striking about the right balance in dealing with the situation in the Middle East; 22% say he is favoring the Palestinians too much and 13% say he favors Israel too much (13%). These views are little changed from April.

More pessimism regarding 2-states

In the wake of the fighting, Americans have become have become more pessimistic on the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution: 43% say a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, while 48% don’t think this can happen. In April, 46% thought a peaceful solution could be achieved, while 44% did not.

The poll finds that Americans increasingly are open to a larger U.S. role in trying to solve problems around the world.

According to USA Today, while the public remains divided on the issue, “the initial shifts in public opinion could make it easier for President Barack Obama to order more muscular options in striking Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq.”

“If the trend continues, it could help shape the 2016 campaign to succeed him,” said the report.

The poll of 1,501 adults, taken by landline and cellphone Aug. 20-24, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In the survey, 39% say the United States does too much in helping solve world problems; 31% say the U.S. does too little. That reflects a significant change from less than a year ago, when in a previous Pew Research Center poll Americans by an overwhelming 51%-17% said the U.S. did too much.

A 34-percentage-point gap in November 2013 has narrowed to 8 points now.

Among Democrats and independents, the percentage saying the U.S. does too little has jumped by about 10 points. The increase is even more striking in the GOP. In November, about one in five Republicans said the U.S. did too little; now nearly half do.

Obama 'not tough enough' 

The perception that Obama is "not tough enough" is growing. Early in his presidency, in June 2009, a 51% majority of Americans called his approach on national security issues "about right." Now a 54% majority doubt his toughness, including a significant share of traditional supporters: one-third of Democrats, four in 10 African Americans and just over half of women.

Just 37% now approve of Obama's policy toward Israel and 35% his approach toward the strife between Russia and Ukraine.

In the poll, just 15% of Americans say the United States is playing a more important and powerful role as a world leader today compared with 10 years ago, the lowest percentage in the four decades the question has been asked. Nearly half say the U.S. is playing a less influential role.

The biggest threats to the United States are perceived as being Islamic extremist groups like al-Qaeda, cited as a "major threat" by 71%. Nearly as many, 67%, name the Islamic militant group in Iraq and Syria known as the Islamic State, a force that has gained notoriety among Americans only in the last few months.

The sense that Islamic extremists pose a danger to the U.S. — and the horrific video of American journalist James Foley being executed by IS captors — may have bolstered support for U.S. airstrikes against targets in Syria and Iraq. Almost exactly a year ago, national surveys showed Americans opposed strikes in Syria by more than 2-1. But a USA TODAY/Pew Poll earlier this month found Americans backing airstrikes in Iraq by 54%-31%.