American views on Israel remain tied to religious beliefs

The historically strong relationship between the United States and Israel has recently come under renewed scrutiny, based in part on controversial comments by Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who suggested that US supporters of Israel may have “allegiance to a foreign country”. Responding to these comments, the House of Representatives on March 7 passed a broad resolution condemning bigotry, including anti-Semitism.

Rep. Omar is a Democrat, and recent Gallup analysis shows that Democrats are actually less sympathetic toward Israel than Republicans, though support for Israel among Democrats still outweighs support for the Palestinians.

There are a number of reasons for Democrats’ low level of sympathy for Israel, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close ties with Republican leaders in the United States in recent years and President Donald’s strong advocacy of Israel. Trump. But one of the bases of the divergent partisan views on Israel is religion.

I reviewed Gallup data on this question five years ago, in an article titled, “Religion plays a big role in American support for Israelis.” I updated this analysis for 2019 and found little substantial change in the relationship between religiosity and support for Israel. Very religious Americans continue to be much more sympathetic towards Israel than those who are less religious. The data is based on responses to the question: “In the situation in the Middle East, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?”

The 2014 analysis used an aggregate of Gallup data from 2001 to 2014, which showed that 66% of those who attended weekly or nearly weekly church services said their sympathies were with Israel rather than the Palestinians. That compared to the 46% who were sympathetic to Israel among those who never attended services. (Support for Israel outweighed support for the Palestinians in each group, given a significant number of respondents who said they had no opinion or who said they were sympathetic to both or none.)

The fundamental impact of religiosity on these attitudes remains intact. In the current analysis of data from 2015 to 2019, 71% of those who frequently attend religious services are sympathetic to Israel, compared to 49% of those who never attend. The relationship is therefore substantially the same as between 2001 and 2014.

Republicans therefore remain more positive than Democrats about Israel, in part because they are more religious, given that religious people are themselves the most positive about Israel.

But religiosity is by no means the full explanation. Although religion is tied to views of Israel among both political groups, even the less Religious Republicans are significantly more positive about Israel than more religious democrats. The impact of religiosity is overwhelmed by the power of partisanship.

Seen differently, if one takes the group of Americans who attend religious services very frequently and separates them by politics, one finds a yawning chasm: 85% of these very religious Republicans are more sympathetic to Israel, compared to 55% of very religious democrats. . Clearly, Americans’ political identity is a dominant correlate of their attitudes toward Israel.

These relationships are quite similar to what we found in the analysis of the 2001-2014 data. Partisanship and religiosity affect sympathy for Israel, but political identity is the more important of these two variables.

Jews and Protestants remain very sympathetic to Israel

American Jews are more than three times more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans and, as noted earlier, Democrats are significantly less sympathetic to Israel than Republicans. But Jewish views of Israel are an exception to the typical Democratic pattern. The overwhelming majority of Jews were more sympathetic to Israel than Palestinians in 2001-2014, and I see no sign that this relationship has changed significantly in recent years.

We must be careful when drawing conclusions about Jewish attitudes, because Jews make up only about 2% of the overall US population and therefore constitute a small proportion of standard adult national samples. Using the 2015-2019 aggregate, which combines five surveys, we end up with only 128 Jewish respondents.

Even allowing for the large margin of error around this small sample, I think it’s safe to conclude that basic Jewish attitudes toward Israel have remained much the same. The 86% of Jews sympathizing with Israel in the 2015-2019 sample is not significantly different from the 93% we found in the 2001-2014 sample. (The drop from 93% to 86% suggests a slight drop, marginally significant, but without analytical significance. The proportion of Jews sympathizing with the Palestinians was 2% in the earlier sample and 7% in the more recent sample. to taste.)

Protestants, like Jews, also have above-average sympathy for Israel, with 70% saying they sympathize with Israel and 13% with the Palestinians. Catholics’ sympathy for Israel – 60% – is around the sample average, while those without a religious identity are significantly below the sympathy for Israel average, at 43%.

As was the case for American Jews, there has been little change in these attitudes among Protestants, Catholics, and people with no religious identity since the 2001-2014 analysis.

We do not have a direct measure of “evangelicals” in our sample, but we can approximate this group by isolating highly religious white Protestants. The results show that 87% of this group is sympathetic to Israelis – essentially the same as Jews, meaning that on this issue alone there is a remarkable similarity between the views of Jews and evangelical Protestants. Trump’s decision last year to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may have been influenced in part by the support it would receive from the evangelical component of its political base.

Black Sympathy for Israel Roughly at the Democratic Average

Black Americans are overwhelmingly Protestant and highly religious, two characteristics – as we have seen – that are associated with above-average sympathy for Israel. But black Americans are also very likely to be Democrats, which are fine underneath average in their support for Israel.

The results of these cross-pressures? Party identification appears to be the most important factor in determining black attitudes toward Israel. Less than half of black people – 48% – are sympathetic to Israel, and 27% are sympathetic to Palestinians. That’s similar to the 43% overall sympathy rating for Israel among all Democrats, and significantly lower than the 68% sympathy rating among non-Hispanic whites.

Partisan identity appears to Trump’s religion when it comes to Israel

The analysis of American views on Israel is significant, given the importance of Israel in US strategy in the Middle East (with $38 billion in US military aid to Israel over the past 10 years) and the importance of Israel to many American Christians and Jews, for whom the country is part of their religious heritage.

Although religiosity and partisanship play a role in how Americans view each side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is important to note that support for Israel is more important than for Palestinians in all political groups. and religious that we analyze. And other results show that Americans view Israel as a nation far more favorably than unfavorably, at a ratio of more than 2 to 1.

But the relative the differences in these levels of support between religious and political groups are significant enough to help explain why disagreements over the level and type of US support for Israel may remain contentious in contemporary discourse.

Some commentators have recently suggested that there is a significant shift in the views of certain groups of Americans on Israel. Trump, for example, took to a broadcast report and tweeted that “Jews are quitting the Democratic Party.” While we don’t yet have enough data compiled in 2019 to examine recent trends, the stability of Jewish support for the Democratic Party over the past decade suggests that such a shift in allegiance is unlikely.