January 27, 2014

U.S.-Middle East Relations: Key Data Points from Pew Research

A large majority of Americans put more importance on stable governments in the Middle East than they do on having democratic governments.

KDP_Middle_EastAbout six-in-ten Americans (63%) say stable governments are more important, even if there is less democracy in the region, according to an Oct.-Nov. 2013 survey. Fewer expressed this view in 2011 (52%) and 2012 (54%).

The U.S. public had expressed pessimism in late 2012 about changes in political leadership after the Arab Spring.

arabspring

Two years after the Arab Spring, there continues to be unrest in the Middle East and the U.S. public has become more skeptical about the political changes that have occurred. Our October 2012 survey found nearly six-in-10  Americans (57%) do not believe the changes in the Middle East will lead to lasting improvements for people living in the affected countries, up sharply from 43% in April 2011.  A majority of the U.S. public also puts the priority on having stable governments in  the region, even if that means less democracy.

The public would like less U.S. involvement in Middle East leadership changes.

MiddleEastinvolvement

As noted in other surveys, the public has become focused on domestic issues, particularly the economy, and supports less U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Overall, 63% of Americans say they want the U.S. less involved in Middle East leadership changes while 23% say they U.S. should be more involved, according to an October 2012 survey. A July survey, conducted after the coup that ousted Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi, found that 36% now considered what happens in Egypt to be very important to U.S. interests, compared to 46% who said that in 2011.

The public expresses consistent support for Israel.

For decades, the public has sympathized with Israel over the Palestinians and that remains the case today. A March survey found about half the public sympathizes more with Israel, compared with just 12% who say they sympathize more with the Palestinians; Almost a quarter (23%) do not offer an opinion while 12% say they sympathize with neither side. Attitudes on this question haven’t changed much in the past six years.

However, Americans want the U.S. to be less involved in trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

KDP_Israel_Involve

When it comes to resolving the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, nearly as many say the U.S. should be less involved (39%) as say it should be as involved as it currently is (36%), according to an Oct.-Nov. 2013 survey. About one-in-five (21%) say the U.S. should be more involved in resolving this dispute.

A majority have said the U.S. does not have a responsibility to act in Syria.

Syria

As fighting in Syria continues between government forces and anti-government groups, the public continues to say that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting there. And there continues to be substantial opposition to sending arms to anti-government forces in Syria. An April survey found that, by a 45% to 31% margin, more Americans favor than oppose the U.S. and its allies taking military action against Syria, if it was confirmed that Syria used chemical weapons against anti-government groups.

Read more Pew Research findings on U.S.-Middle East relations.

Index to other Key Data Point fact sheets