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Favorability and the Gap: Both Growing in Favor of Israel

by Shmuel Rosner

May 7, 2014 | 4:14 am

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (r.) speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Monroe Room of the State Department in Washington, September 2, 2010. Jason Reed/Reuters

Our Israel Favorability tracker has a long history and is a complicated feature to handle. Among other things, because of the many ways favorability can be measured, the type of questions asked, their frequency, their timing. The main graph that Prof. Camil Fuchs computes for us deals only with questions that specifically measure Israel’s favorability – that is, questions that ask about “Favorable versus unfavorable opinion towards Israel in general”, as Prof. Fuchs defined it when we last posted an updated graph (see it here).

Moreover, in an article published about a year ago (in Haaretz), Fuchs and I explained why the “favorability” question is superior to other measurements of Israel’s situation. Other – as in questions that don’t solely ask about Israel but rather ask about Israel in comparison to something else. In almost all cases, and there are many such cases, the “something else” is the Palestinians. The public is not asked to tell the pollsters to what extent it supports, likes, believes in, or feels affinity toward Israel. It is asked what side it supports in the conflict – Israel or the Palestinians.

Surely, this is a tricky question. It can make things seem good even when the actual state of support is one of erosion, if the erosion in the support for Israel’s mirror-image, the Palestinians, is even worse. Nevertheless, building on a new PEW survey from last week, we decided to take a break from favorability per-se and take a look at Israel’s situation compared to “the Palestinians”.

This is something worth doing for a couple of reasons.

1. Because of the collapse of the last round of peace negotiations, and the relatively high visibility of the topic in recent months.
2. Because the collapse is the end of talks and the beginning (well, this began long ago) of a blame game in which both sides aim to score points against one another – the kind of points that one might be able to follow by looking at Israel-vs-Palestine polls.
3. Because the polls before this last one showed us that Israel’s current state of favorability is solid (here it is again), and we wanted to see if this is also the picture seen in other types of polls.
4. Because, well, this is what we have that is fresh, so we might as well use it.
5. It was Israel’s Independence Day yesterday, and we wanted to see if there’s reason for celebration (of course there is, no matter what the numbers say).

As we use it, though, we don’t just look at the new numbers and the couple of sentences provided by PEW. We also skipped, at least this time, the examination of partisanship, as the picture is well known and well documented: “Support for Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians has been consistent over the nearly four-decade history of this measure. There continue to be partisan differences in views: 68% of Republicans sympathize more with Israel compared with 46% of Democrats (just 15% of Democrats and 7% of Republicans sympathize more with the Palestinians)”.

This time we focused on the larger picture, and on the Israel-Palestine gap – that is, not just how Israel fairs in comparison to the Palestinians, but also what the gap between the American public’s appreciation of Israel and its appreciation of the Palestinians looks like. And we didn’t just do it with the last PEW survey, we did it with PEW surveys dated back to the late 1980s. And we didn’t just do it with PEW surveys, but added to them the very similar surveys by Gallup. The PEW question is: “In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, which side do you sympathize with more, Israel or the Palestinians?”, the Gallup question is: “In the Middle East, are you sympathizes more with Israel or with the Palestinians?”. Both institutions ask these questions quite frequently.

(If you want to see the detailed tables and graphs, and some technical notes, click here and see the Favorability tracker. In this post we will use just one graph, and provide some analysis)

Pew and Gallup show the numbers for both Israel and the Palestinians in their respective surveys. What we did is simply put the numbers all together and provide a graph of the “gap” – that is, Israel’s favorability, always higher, minus the Palestinians’ favorability. We did it separately for both polls, and here is the result:

I find it quite revealing. Not only are Israel’s numbers gradually climbing, but so is the gap. Amid all the talk – and there is such circular conversation around Washington from time to time – about the looming decline of Israel’s favorability, the numbers tell another story. If once the gap between Israel and the Palestinians was twenty or thirty percent different – and this, by the way, seemed enough at the time – it is now above forty percent. To be exact: 42% in the latest Pew, 44% in the latest Gallup (again, if you want all the detailed numbers, click here). In 2012, it was 40% and 44%. The widening of the gap is slow, but is hard to deny. Opinion makers who find Israel at fault for the collapse of the Kerry initiative, Obama supporters who believe that more pressure on Netanyahu is the key, BDS activists who disrupt university events, creating an impression of a “movement”, all seem much less significant when one looks at the numbers. 

Of course, worrying about the future is always an option. When things look grim, we worry, and when the numbers are so high we worry that they will eventually decline. Yet as Israel celebrates its 66th year, after more than forty five years of occupation and more than a hundred years of fighting with the Palestinians over land, the American public – to the extent that it has a view – vastly prefers Israel to its neighbors.

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