Polling shows anti-Israel positions of youth fade in US with age

The number of those in the youngest age group saying they sympathize more with the Palestinians tripled from 1997 to 2020, going from 10% to 30%.

AMERICAN AND ISRAELI flags fly during a demonstration in support of Israel at the US Capitol in 2002. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
AMERICAN AND ISRAELI flags fly during a demonstration in support of Israel at the US Capitol in 2002.
In the all-important battle for public support in the US for Israel, much emphasis is placed on the “youth” – the 18-35 demographic surveyed in the polls.
This age group, the oft-heard argument runs, is traditionally the least supportive of Israel – having no personal memory of the Holocaust, Israel’s birth, the wonder of the Six Day War in 1967 or the existential threat of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Moreover, they are being educated on decidedly liberal college campuses where they are exposed to a steady drumbeat of anti-Israel propaganda.
And, indeed, the annual Gallup Poll on American attitudes toward Israel that was released last week – but flew well under the radar screen because of the media spotlight on the coronavirus – found that support for Israel is weakest among that age group, while support for Palestinians is strongest among those aged 18-34.
But the opinions that people hold in college are not necessarily the opinions they will hold after they get married, find jobs and have children. And this is true when it comes to Israel as well, with support for Israel soaring in the 35-54 age group.
According to the poll, less than half (48%) of those in the 18-34 age group said that their sympathies are more with Israel than with the Palestinians – a figure well below the national average of 60% whose sympathies are with Israel. Fully 30% of this age group said they sympathize more with the Palestinians.
And these findings are consistent with the findings of Gallup polls going back to 1997, where the youngest age group surveyed proved the least supportive of Israel, and the most supportive of Palestinians.
However, one does not stay 21 forever, and the next Gallup poll group – the 35-54 year olds – is very supportive of Israel, with 61% of this group saying their sympathies are more with Israel, and only 19% saying they favored the Palestinians. Those 18-year-olds in 1997 – when only 36% said they supported Israel – are now 41, and in this category a large majority express greater sympathy toward Israel.
That is the good news from an Israeli perspective. The bad news is that the number of those in the youngest age group who said they sympathize more with the Palestinians tripled from 1997 to 2020, going from 10% to 30%, while the number saying they sympathize more with Israel over this period only rose a third – from 36% to 48%.
The most recent Gallup poll further strengthened the perception that Israel's biggest problem in the US is among American liberals, with more of them (43%) today saying their sympathies are more with the Palestinians than with Israel (36%). This is a stunning change from 1997, when only 9% of people who defined themselves as liberal expressed more sympathies with the Palestinians, while 35% of them said they sided with Israel.
Polls such as these have significance in an election year, because while they might not be dead-on accurate, they do give politicians drawing up policy positions a sense of where their constituency lies. Politicians look at and are influenced by polls.
But one would be mistaken to think that because more liberals support the Palestinians than Israel, that the Democratic Party – the political home of the self-defined liberals (49% of Democrats define themselves as liberal) – will automatically tack in that direction.
Why? Because to win the White House, the Democrats – with fewer adherents in the US (29%) than those identifying as Republican (30%) or Independent (39%) –  will have to win over moderate voters, who constitute some 35% of the electorate, and who support Israel over the Palestinians by almost a two-to-one margin: 51% to 27%. While liberal voters may want to see the party take a more pro-Palestinian position, moderate voters – whom the Democrats will need to win over if they want to unseat US President Donald Trump in November – do not share those sympathies, the poll indicated.
Republican support for Israel, meanwhile, is off the charts, with 86% of Republicans saying they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, up a whopping 35% – an increase of two-thirds – from 1997, when that number stood at only 51%.
The Gallup poll, taken in February before the coronavirus crisis but after US President Donald Trump released his “Deal of the Century” that – along with allowing Israel to annex the settlements and the Jordan Valley, as well as paving the way for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state – showed the highest level of support for a Palestinian state since 2003, with 55% in favor, and 34% opposed. The increased support comes from a sharp spike in the number of Republicans supporting the idea, up 11% from last year. This uptick can be attributed to the idea of a Palestinian state being part of the Trump framework.
Another finding that should concern Israeli leaders when compared with previous years, is support among non-whites. In the 2020 poll, one-third of non-whites said they were more sympathetic toward the Palestinians than the Israelis, a significant increase over the number of blacks asked the question in an aggregate of Gallups polls from 2002-2006. At that time, this number stood at 24%.
Finally, the Gallup poll shows that even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has linked himself closely with Trump – a sharply divisive figure in the US who currently has a 51% disapproval rating – three-fourths of Americans (74%) view Israel favorably.
This matches the figure of two years ago and is the highest favorable rating since 1991, when that number reached 79% after the First Gulf War when Israel came under Scud attack from Saddam Hussein. These findings should have a sobering effect on those arguing that Netanyahu's close alliance with Trump is destroying public support for the Jewish state in the US.
The Gallup 2020 poll was based on telephone interviews conducted February 3-16, among a random sample of 1,028 adults. The poll had a 4% margin of error.