Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

A new perspective on Americans’ views of Israelis and Palestinians

Americans have more favorable views of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples than of their governments, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. And as previous surveys on this subject have shown, there are substantial partisan differences in these attitudes.

The survey was conducted April 1-15 among 10,523 adults on the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. It asked one group of people whether they had favorable or unfavorable opinions of the Israeli people and, separately, of the Palestinian people. Another group of respondents was asked for its opinions of the Israeli government and the Palestinian government.

(There is not a unified Palestinian government; rather, since 2007, there have been two Palestinian governments, one on the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip. To make this question accessible for respondents, and to provide a comparison with views of the Israeli government, the question asks about the “Palestinian government.”)

For decades – 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?” The Center has asked this question since 1993; for more than a decade before that, it was included in surveys conducted by Gallup for the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Since 1993, this question has been asked on telephone surveys. Previously, it had been asked in face-to-face interviews.

This question was valuable because it allowed us to track changes in public attitudes on an important issue over the course of four decades. 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. Since this question was first asked, relatively large shares of Americans have volunteered 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.

Israeli and Palestinian peoples are both viewed more favorably than their govts.

In some ways, the findings from the new survey mirror results from the head-to-head question about sympathies. Among the public overall, larger shares have favorable opinions of both the Israeli people (64% very or somewhat favorable) and the Israeli government (41%) than of the Palestinian people (46%) and the Palestinian government (19%).

In last year’s survey, more Americans (46%) said they sympathized more with Israel, compared with 16% who sympathized more with the Palestinians; another 5% volunteered their sympathies were with both sides and 14% volunteered neither side, while nearly one-in-five (19%) did not express an opinion.

The head-to-head sympathies measure obscured some nuances in public opinion on this issue, especially among partisans. For many years, Republicans have been far more likely than Democrats to sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians.

In the new survey, majorities in both parties have favorable opinions of Israel’s people, though Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (77%) are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners (57%) to have a favorable view. The gap is considerably wider in views of Israel’s government: 61% of Republicans and just 26% of Democrats view Israel’s government favorably.

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 finds that Democrats tend to express similar views of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, as well as their governments.

Nearly half of Democrats (46%) have favorable opinions of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples; that is larger than the shares of Democrats who have mixed views of the two peoples or unfavorable views of both. Conversely, a larger share of Democrats express unfavorable opinions of both governments (53%) than feel favorably toward one but not the other, or have a favorable opinion of both.

Democrats more likely than Republicans to express favorable views of the Israeli and the Palestinian people, unfavorable views of both governments

While Republicans have positive attitudes toward Israel’s people and government, their opinions about the Palestinians are perhaps not as negative as one might expect, given the overwhelming margin by which Republicans sympathized with Israel more than the Palestinians last year (79% to 6%).

In the new survey, nearly half of Republicans and GOP leaners (46%) have a favorable opinion of the Israeli people and an unfavorable view of the Palestinian people. But nearly a third (30%) have favorable opinions of both peoples. Similarly, while 51% of Republicans have a favorable view of the Israeli government and an unfavorable opinion of the Palestinian government, 30% have unfavorable opinions of both governments.