Poll: Israel isn't top priority for US voters, including Jews

Voters, including Jews, focus on economy, Iraq and health care.

us special 2 224 (photo credit: )
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
Israel figures low on the totem pole for likely American voters, who are chiefly concerned with the economy and jobs followed by the situation in Iraq, affordable health care, terrorism and national security. These are the findings of a poll conducted among 800 respondents representing America's broad demographic range in terms of age, affluence, gender, ethnic background and religion. The telephone poll, conducted between March 18-20, was commissioned by The Israel Project, a nonpartisan Washington, DC, organization that works to strengthen Israel's image in the American media. Project founder and president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi told a news conference in Jerusalem on Monday that even in the Jewish community, the majority of likely voters do not give priority to Israel. "Three quarters of the American Jewish community say that there are other issues more important than Israel," she said, saying only 23 percent of the Jewish population listed Israel as a top issue. The poll had a 3.5% margin of error. While 51% of the respondents acknowledged that the economy and jobs were their major concern, only 7% cited the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the threat of Iran. Despite the potential threat of Iran, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was a slightly more popular issue. While the majority of likely voters viewed Israel as a moderate among the Middle East players, there was a dramatic difference in their perceptions of Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah, and the Palestinian Authority. Iran was generally regarded as the most extreme, with 84% of respondents categorizing it as extreme, and Hamas was seen as extreme by 72%. Hizbullah was seen as extreme by 64% while 68% thought the Palestinian Authority was an extremist organization. On the other hand, 40% of respondents said that Israel is extreme, and, even when compared to the others listed above, only 54% said Israel was the most moderate, followed by the Palestinian Authority, 21%, Iran 12% and Hamas and Hizbullah 10% each. Nonetheless, she noted, Americans are far more supportive of Israel than Europeans. Questioned as to how much of a chance they thought that diplomacy and sanctions by the US government, or alternatively the United Nations or the European Union, could stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, 54% replied that there was a good chance or at least some chance (46% for UN/EU), while 43% (52% for UN/EU) doubted that there was any chance. Democrats were significantly more hopeful than Republicans or Independents, with 65% taking a positive approach to diplomacy and sanctions by the US compared to 47% of Republicans and 48% of independents. Asked whether America would be less safe than it is now in the event that Iran succeeds in developing a nuclear bomb, 65% thought that they would be less safe while 34% assumed that there would be no change. "Support for Israel has significantly increased" said Laszlo Mizrahi, noting a figure of 60% who declared themselves to be Israel supporters, 27% strong Israel supporters, 31% Palestinian supporters and only 8% neither or undecided. The poll revealed that McCain voters are more likely to support Israel than their Democratic counterparts, but support for Israel is across the board, and 71% of Americans think that America should support Israel in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Although Israelis often complain that the international media is biased against them, the poll indicates that 38% believe media reporting is favorable to Israel, while 15% thought it was favorable to the Palestinians. The percentage point differences were even more overwhelmingly in Israel's favor in response to questions as to whether or not Israel is a vital ally to the US; whether or not Israel is a country that respects freedom of religion, speech and press, and whether or not Israel respects the rights of women and minorities. In general, Americans also believe that Israel is committed to reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but are not convinced that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are interested in reaching a peace accord with Israel. Yet, despite these doubts, nearly two-thirds of likely voters believe that Israel should continue to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, even in the face of terrorist attacks. Support for a two-state solution to the conflict is extremely high - above 80%. The majority believes an independent Palestinian state will improve the economic future of the Palestinian people; 67% think it will make Israel more secure as a nation and 59% are convinced it will reduce Palestinian terrorism against Israel. But only 46% of those respondents thought that such a situation would result in lasting peace for the region, while 48% said that it wouldn't. Interestingly enough, American support for Jerusalem remaining under Israeli sovereignty and not being divided is as high as 72%, but Laszlo Mizrahi attributed this to the timing of the poll, which took place not long after the massacre at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. While Palestinians consistently talk about the expropriation of their land, Americans, according to the poll, overwhelmingly believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about ideology and religion and not about land. American voters blame the Gaza humanitarian crisis on the Hamas leadership rather than Israel, and more than 90% of Americans believe that the Palestinians must stop their missile attacks before a two-state solution can work. Almost as many justify Israel defending itself and taking action to end terrorism, just as America would do under similar circumstances.