Article | Is public support eroding for Israel in its battle with Hamas?

November 30th, 2023

By Rabbi Alan Silverstein, Ph.D. MERCAZ Olami, President

The latest extensive national poll in November, conducted by NBC, led to headlines reporting a decline in support for Joe Biden in a head-to-head presidential face-off with Donald Trump.

This fall-off is attributed by “Progressive” analysts to 70 percent of folks ages 18-34 “disapproving” of Biden’s handling of the war in the Middle East.

Are Americans-at-large turning against the Jewish state? Are they in favor of Hamas?

The public is bombarded with media coverage of loud and demonstrative pro-Hamas rallies, gatherings that disrupted holiday shoppers, Manhattan’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and college and high school campuses. Participants emulate Hamas by wearing masks and in other ways identifying with members of the terrorist organization. The signs they brandish advocate violence, proclaiming “Intifada,” “From the River to the Sea” (envisioning a Palestinian entity that seeks to eliminate Israel and its citizens), “By Any Means Necessary” (including, presumably, the pogrom of October 7), and, this time emulating the Nazis, “Gas the Jews.”

What is the impact of these tactics upon the American public? An examination of poll data reveals a great deal of information.

Respondents to the NBC poll were asked whether they hold “positive” or “negative” views of Israel and of Hamas. Contrary to what we might expect from copious press accounts, an overwhelming preference for the Jewish state is evident.

Israel — 24% very positive, 25% somewhat positive

Hamas — ZERO very positive, 1% somewhat positive

In an era when people are not shy about expressing negative attitudes toward political leaders and nation-states, Israel remains popular. In comparing positive to negative assessments, Israel’s popularity is similar to that of Ukraine as it continues to battle Russia, and exceeds that of some presidential hopefuls:

Israel: 47% total positive, 24% total negative (+23% differential)

Ukraine: 45% positive, 24% negative (+21)

Nikki Haley: 24% positive, 28% negative (-4)

Donald Trump: 36% positive, 52% negative (-16)

Joe Biden: 36% positive, 53% negative (-17)

Palestine [Palestinians]: 20% positive, 38% negative, (-18)

Russia: 29% positive, 52% negative (-23)

Hamas: 1% positive, 81% negative (-80)

Biden is indeed declining in the polls; but do the voters’ view on his handling of the Middle East dominate their thinking when considering their choices in the 2024 presidential election?

The NBC poll indicates that for some voters, a “single issue” could determine their 2024 ballot decision: At the top of these decisive matters are: Protecting democracy (19%), abortion (18%), immigration or border security (14%), and guns (9%). Important but unspecified items include such economic factors as inflation, jobs, housing, and interest rates.

Biden’s handling of the war between Israel and Hamas — whether one agrees or disagrees with his stance — is rated low as a single-issue factor. It is a determinant for only 5% of voters. Of that group, not all seek less support for Israel; quite the contrary, there are folks who advocate additional support for the Jewish state.

In the NBC data, among all ages and all political affiliations, 34% approve of the Biden handling of the Israel-Hamas war; 56% disapprove. In contrast, a November Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll of 2,851 registered voters finds that 58% approve of Biden’s Israel policies, while only 42% disapprove! When asked whether the president “should pull back his support on Israel,” 66% said he should not, while only 34% said he should.

What can we glean from poll results that identify greater numbers of voters opposed to Biden’s Mideast approach?

In a more detailed November YouGov poll, 44% view Biden’s support for Israel as “just right,” 32% want him to provide “more support,” and only 24% say Biden’s support is “too much.”

Furthermore, overall support for Israel in its self-defense battles against Hamas — conflicts in 2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2023 — is not declining over time. In fact, the degree of support has hardly changed during the past decade.

According to the NBC poll, support for Israel was 44% in the midst of Israel’s war with Hamas in 2014. This level compares favorably to the 47% measured today. Regarding the combat of 2014, 24% felt Israel “went too far”; 44% and 30% in 2014 compare quite well to 47% and 30% today.

Politico columnist Marc Caputo concludes that Biden’s Middle East approach is not an electoral liability. Instead, he says, Biden is “in front of public opinion.” Mainstream voters favor three factors: “clear support for Israel, humanitarian aid for Gaza, and condemnation of Hamas.” Biden touched upon all three issues during his November 16 primetime address. While criticized from the Far Left and the Far Right, his approach “nevertheless put him on the right side of public opinion.”

Biden’s current drop in the polls can arguably best be seen in light of the perception that in 2024 he will be too old to serve four more years.

As with Biden’s Ukraine policy, Caputo views attitudes surrounding the Middle East as a “relative bright spot for him in public polls that otherwise show the president earning poor marks regarding his job approval, the economy, or immigration.”

In agreement is Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, who views Biden’s foreign policy approach to Israel and Ukraine as “not only on the side of public opinion. He’s in front of public opinion.”

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