Israel’s attack on Gaza diminished its support among Democratic voters

A new University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll shows that Israel’s recent attack on Gaza hurt its reputation among Democratic voters, particularly young Democratic voters. Almost 70% of Democratic voters, who know where their local lawmakers stand on the issue, now say that their congressional representatives support Israel more than they do.

3,379 American adults were surveyed on the conflict between  June 22 to July 21. The post-attack shift becomes immediately evident when the new numbers are compared against a similar poll that the group carried out in August of 2020.

The 2020 poll found that 13.1% of Democrats wanted the United States government to favor the Palestinians and 10.4% wanted Israel to be favored. In the new poll 17.9% want the U.S. to back the Palestinians and just 9.5% want the government to learn toward Israel.

Among Democrats between the ages of 18-34, 34.5% want Palestinians to be favored and just 9.1% want U.S. support to tip toward Israel.

These numbers become even more striking among Democrats between the ages of 18-34. The 2020 poll found that 18.3% of them wanted the U.S. to back Palestine and 11.4% wanted them to favor Israel. Now 34.5% want Palestinians to be favored and just 9.1% want support to tip toward Israel.

Shibley Telhami, a nonresident senior fellow with the Center for Middle East Policy, in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, summarized the findings. “One striking finding in this poll is the large shift in Democratic attitudes toward Israel that’s too big to be explained simply by long-term trends, putting the spotlight on May’s Gaza conflict,” he wrote. “The poll certainly shows a continued, now-familiar trend of robust support for Israel among Republicans, coupled with a reduction of backing for Israel among Democrats. It also highlights a contrast between the highly supportive public posture that the Biden administration has taken on Israel and Democratic public opinion, which overwhelmingly wants the U.S. to be even-handed, with those who want to take a side increasingly backing the Palestinians.”

“There is evidence that the recent Gaza fighting further diminished support for Israel among Democrats, especially young Democrats.”

Shibley Telhami

He continues, “There is evidence that the recent Gaza fighting further diminished support for Israel among Democrats, especially young Democrats. In particular, the change from just 11 months earlier is too substantial to be a function of long-term demographic trends, or a further outcome of political polarization in Washington…”

The new poll also shows that majority of Americans opposed President Joe Biden’s handling of the recent crisis in Gaza. 52.6% disapproved of Biden’s moves and 47.4% approved. 27.7% of Democrats opposed Biden’s moves but, as Telhami points, these numbers are even more notable when one considers how low Biden’s disapproval rating is among Democratic voters. Again, these numbers go way up when younger Democrats are isolated. Almost half the Democrats between 18-34 said they disapproved of the President’s efforts.

Although Republican support for Israel remains somewhat solid, the new poll also indicates that Republican lawmakers are to the right of their voters on this issue. Of those polled who knew where their elected officials stand on the issue, 67.7% of Democrats and 44.4% of Republicans said their congress members support Israel more than they do.

These new findings couldn’t come at a worse time for Israel. The country’s leaders and its supporters began waging a vociferous PR battle shortly after Ben & Jerry’s announced it would stop selling its ice cream in illegal settlements.

In a recent piece in The Conversation St. Lawrence University Government Professor Ronnie Olesker said she expects more companies to follow Ben & Jerry’s lead. She cites a Gallup poll from May that found Israel has a net favorability of just 3% among Democrats and voters who lean Democratic. That’s down from 31% in the early 2000s.

“While I don’t doubt the company’s values were behind the decision, I also believe something else was at work: Israel is losing the battle for public opinion,” writes Olesker.

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