Americans Holding Favorable Views of Israel Decline 16%

The percentage of Americans viewing Israel favorably has fallen to 59 percent. By contrast, nearly a quarter of Americans (24 percent) now view the Palestinian Authority favorably. Americans viewing Iran favorably also surged to a recent high of 16% of the adult population.

These are the results of three IRmep polls of the U.S. adult internet population fielded by Google Consumer Surveys February 19-20. The questions posed were, "What is your overall opinion of [country]?" Respondents could also fill in their own response. Most of these, representing up to 12.9% of the total responses, offered no opinion.

The IRmep survey methodology differs from the popular Gallup World Affairs Survey methodology. Gallup conducts a serial telephone survey with multiple questions per respondent. Gallup’s last publicly available data is from a February 8-11, 2015 survey of 837 adults with a 4% margin of error. IRmep’s Google Consumer Survey margin of error on three questions fielded separately ranged from only 1.5% to 2.3% with a sample size target of 1029 national adults. Nevertheless, comparing historical Gallup data (2001-2015) with new IRmep poll numbers (2016 only) asking the same question reveals a stunning turn in U.S. public opinion.

Favorable views toward Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Iran, % Very/Mostly favorable
Favorable views toward Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Iran, % Very/Mostly favorable

American public opinion of Israel (survey results) has not been this low since 2004, a year Israel conducted three separate military operations against Palestinians living in Gaza. Gallup’s February 2015 poll captured a small year-on-year decline at the onset of Israel’s final attempt to thwart the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran. Negative headlines and reports subsequently filled U.S airwaves with news of the Netanyahu administration’s many efforts against the deal. According to reports, Israel even spied on U.S.-Iran negotiations and then leaked details to Israel affinity organization leaders working against it in the United States.

Israeli government officials also secretly contacted and lobbied undecided U.S. lawmakers asking, "What it would take to win their votes." However, Israel was fighting an international deal immensely popular with the general American public and key interest group segments. Pro-Israel organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sided with the Netanyahu administration – and against the preferences of many Americans they claim to represent – which may have also damaged their images along with Israel’s. The deal passed in mid-July of 2015.

Meanwhile, Iran has seen its favorability rankings surge 42%. (Survey results) The restoration of normal business and financial ties with much of the world appears to be viewed favorably by some Americans. This may result from a decline in media and interest group-generated information about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon – which most Western intelligence agencies say does not exist. In late 2014, 58.5% of Americans mistakenly believed Iran already had nuclear weapons. (Survey results) The quick resolution of an incident in January during which Iran captured then quickly released two U.S. Navy patrol boats and their crewmembers and release of other American captives, such as Washington Post reporter Janson Rezaian, may have bumped Iran’s favorability rankings to this high.

The Palestinian Authority’s rise from 17 to 24 percent favorability among Americans accompanied the running of that nation’s banner up a flagpole in front of the United Nations headquarters. (Survey results) Overall, Palestine received improving news media coverage of its history and unpleasant narratives of life under Israeli occupation, as well as some positive coverage of its peaceful civil society efforts to highlight the situation – such as the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Grant F. Smith is the author of the forthcoming book Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby Moves America.  He currently serves as director of research at the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington (IRmep), D.C. Read other articles by Smith, or visit the IRmep website.