March 21, 2012 | 1:40 pm
Last Friday, the Republican Jewish Coalition released a statement expressing concern over the “clear ‘Israel Gap’ between the parties. Republican support for Israel is 25 points higher than Democratic support, and according to Gallup, only a bare majority, 53% of Democrats, express sympathy with Israel.” This gap is not a new phenomenon, and should give the ever-concerned Jews yet more cause for concern. Three years ago, only 31% of Democratic respondents supported Israel’s Cast Lead operation in Gaza (compared to 62% of Republicans). Two years ago, I reported that the gap between Democrats and Republicans on Israel was “higher than ever,” following a Gallup poll in which there was a 37% difference in support between voters of the two parties.
In the most recent Gallup poll, the one highlighted by the RJC, 78% of Republicans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, while the percentage for Democrats is 53% (Independents tend to behave more like Democrats when it comes to Israel: 56%). While I do not much like this question – supposedly making the sympathizing with Israel/Palestine a zero sum game – it is a common measure of Israel’s favorability among Americans, and as you can see in the Gallup graph, in this age and decade Republicans tends to be stronger on Israel than Democrats:
Another interesting similar difference between the voters of the two parties can be found in a recent PEW poll. This poll measured the extent to which Americans want the US to support Israel – more than today, less than today, or about the same. While “a plurality of the public (46%) says that U.S. support for Israel is about right; 22% say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel and a comparable percentage (20%) say it is not supportive enough”, there are significant differences between Republicans and Democrats in this poll as well. Almost 40% of Republicans do not believe that the US is supportive enough of Israel (38% to be precise), but only 8% of Democrats and only 4% of “liberal Democrats” share this view.
Delving deeper into the numbers one can easily see how the groups are divided. Forty-eight percent of “conservative Republicans” believe the US is “not supportive enough” of Israel. Forty percent of “white evangelical” respondents share this view (more than the 39% believing American support for Israel is “about right”). Take a look:
And here is another example, yet again proving that whatever way one probes this topic, one finds the Israel-gap. About a year ago, a CBS NEWS poll asked a similar question: “Do you think the United States gives too much support to Israel, too little support to Israel, or does the U.S. give the right amount of support to Israel?” In that poll, the differences were still evident, albeit not as starkly as in the PEW poll:
Republicans: 23% too much, 26% too little, 42% about right.
Democrats: 33% too much, 11% too little, 44% about right.
In the same poll, 58% of Republicans considered Israel an “ally”, compared to just 29% of Democrats. More Democrats defined Israel as “friendly but not an ally” (40%, compared to 26% of Republicans), and almost 20% of Democrats defined it as “unfriendly” (8%) or even “enemy” (9%).
And when the abstract concept of “support” becomes more specific – such as “if Israel attacks Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program what should the US do?” – the outcome repeats the familiar formula:
Sixty-two percent of Republicans think the US “should support Israel’s action”, compared to 33% of Democrats. Thirty-four percent of Republicans advocate remaining “neutral” compared to 57% of Democrats. That is not surprising, considering the fact that vast majority of Republicans would take military action against Iran to prevent it from “developing nuclear weapons” (74%), compared to 50% of Democrats who would take such action, and 38% that would not (only 16% of Republicans would avoid military conflict “even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons”).
The bottom line is simple: For more than a decade Republican voters have tended to support Israel more than Democratic voters. Raising concern over this – as the RJC did last week – raises the suspicion that someone is playing politics with old news. On the other hand, that it is old doesn’t make it less problematic – it might be the other way around.
So what can be done about the “gap”? In recent days I attended a conversation of some smart and knowledgeable Israelis on this question, and some of them suggested a change in Israel’s policies as the only way to close the gap. That is not a good idea: policies should be based on Israel’s best interests, and an attempt should be made to convince the public - American Democrats included - that these are the right policies.
That Democrats are not convinced is not necessarily a sign that the policies should be changed, but rather a sign that Israel has failed to make a compelling case that would sway these skeptical voters. On the other hand, that Republican voters support Israel’s policies doesn’t necessarily mean that Israel’s policies are the right ones on every issue.
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