Most Americans believe the United States is giving too much foreign aid to Israel according to an online survey. The American Public Opinion on U.S. Aid to Israel (PDF) survey was fielded via Google Consumer Surveys between September 26-29, 2014 as a necessary follow-up to the release of the influential Chicago Council on Global Affairs 2014 report. Middle East analysts eagerly await the biennial Chicago Council survey results and its frank reflections of American views about foreign policy toward the region. Many are surprised by Chicago Council’s conclusions that 64 percent of Americans prefer not to take sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict and that 55 percent would oppose sending U.S. troops to protect Israel if it struck Iran.
However, this year the Chicago Council also concludes that the majority of Americans would keep economic and military aid to Israel, Mexico, Taiwan, Afghanistan Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan “about the same.” Only a small percentage would increase aid, while most of the rest would prefer to decrease or stop aid altogether. One problem identified by the Chicago Council is that most Americans believe such aid to most countries is far more than it actually is. A second issue is that “this question was asked before August violence between Israel and Palestinians…” Despite these factors, the Council confidently concludes “Americans tend to support maintaining or increasing military aid to Israel, Taiwan and Mexico. In a pattern similar to preferences for economic aid, the public tends to favor decreasing or stopping military aid to Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The Chicago Council survey suffers a fatal third flaw in its approach to the foreign aid question – lack of relevant comparative data given to respondents. The 2014 U.S. foreign aid budget (PDF) for Mexico is $206 million; Afghanistan is $749 million while Pakistan is $881 million with Iraq getting $73 million. Meanwhile Egypt and Israel receive lion’s shares with $1.6 billion to Egypt and a whopping $3.1 billion for Israel. Furthermore, aid to Israel has increased on average 30 percent annually since 1970. Israel now receives 9 percent of the entire U.S. foreign aid budget while benefiting from Egypt’s 5 percent share which is justified as maintaining the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace agreement. In Israel’s case, the figure understates actual aid levels since Congress is regularly tapped by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its donor network for additional military aid and joint program funding. Official figures also omit the value of intelligence sharing, such as the massive flows of raw intelligence on Americans approved by President Obama in 2009 and revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
How do Americans really feel about aid to Israel when it is put in perspective? To find out, IRmep surveyed the same statistically significant number of American adults as the Chicago Council (around 2,108). Obviously, the IRmep Google Consumer Survey was fielded after the brutal Israeli invasion of Gaza – a significant difference. The survey question, however, included the necessary context that the Chicago Council left out, asking, “The U.S. gives Israel over $3 billion annually (9% of the foreign aid budget and more than any other country). The amount is.” Respondents could choose between “much too much, too much, about right, too little, and much too little.” The order of choices were randomly reversed to avoid bias.
Almost 61 percent of Americans say the U.S. is giving too much aid to Israel. 33.9 percent said the U.S. gives “much too much” while 26.8 percent said it is “too much.” Some 25.9 percent felt aid to Israel was “about right” but only 6.1 percent said it was “too little” and 7.3 percent is “much too little.”
That such an overwhelming majority of Americans believe the U.S. is giving too much aid to Israel may surprise many who are accustomed to seeing polls and surveys (including Chicago’s) incorrectly claiming overwhelming U.S. support for Israel. It should not be this way. The fault lies in flawed questions and lack of relevant context. Comparing American opinion between Israel, Hamas and Iran is about as useful as comparing U.S. aid to Mexico and Israel, though the former may comfort Israel affinity groups (which do a lot of their own proprietary polling) and congress members. Many important questions about Israel are never asked in U.S. surveys. Where results would likely produce a bad outcome, entire categories of polls – such as the World Values Survey in Israel – are almost never fielded.
Chicago Council also confidently notes that Americans uniformly despise Iran, citing the 1979 hostage crisis and Iran’s nuclear program as the core reasons. According to the Chicago Council survey analysis, “They are also prepared to use force if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Chicago claims that the third highest perceived threat to U.S. vital interests is “the possibility of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers” followed by the even more specific number four, “Iran’s nuclear program.”
Before making such broad claims it would again be useful to insert the type of control questions that would not only improve survey quality (which Chicago Council does at a basic level) but also ascertain whether respondents have been subjected to a propaganda or scare campaign that explains their most elevated but unfounded worries. In the case of Iran, the Israel lobby has been relentless in its campaign to pit Americans against Iran – and it has really paid off. Although no credible Western intelligence agency believes Iran currently has nuclear weapons – a majority – 58.5 percent of Americans now do according to IRmep’s Google Consumer Survey.
Most polls dealing with Middle East policy would produce better results by giving American respondents some key facts and relevant data before asking hard questions. What many such polls most reveal is the sorry state of American news reporting and stunning success of Israel lobby propaganda campaigns.