The American public has consistently supported Israel in its many battles with Islamic enemies over the years. While the numbers bounce around as poll numbers always do, I don’t think there has been much change in this basic fact. Thus, the current NBC/Wall Street Journal survey finds that as to “the current conflict in the Middle East,” 46% of registered voters say their sympathies are with the Israelis, and only 14% with the Palestinians. Forty percent say they are unsure. I assume that most of these are people whose instinct is to support Israel, but who are confused because all they hear about on television is the death of children and other civilians in Gaza.
While support for Israel has been steady, it is by no means uniform. Thus, this Gallup poll, published on July 24, finds that whether Americans see Israel’s actions in Gaza as justified depends heavily on political affiliation:
Republicans see Israel’s actions as justified by more than three to one, while a clear plurality of Democrats–almost a majority–say they are unjustified. What accounts for this striking difference?
It is probably over-determined. Here are some likely explanations:
* Republicans hate terrorism more than Democrats do.
* Democrats are more likely to believe what they see in newspapers.
* Republicans are more likely to take the Bible seriously, and therefore believe that Jews deserve to live in the Holy Land.
* Quite a few Democrats (especially minority Democrats) are anti-Semitic.
* Israel’s current government is regarded as conservative, and is headed by an alpha male.
* Democrats constantly fall for underdogma, and they view the Palestinians as underdogs.
* Republicans value the right of self-defense, and appreciate the necessity for self-defense, more than Democrats.
But perhaps the most important reason is that Republicans are, in general, better informed than Democrats. Gallup breaks down its results in the usual ways–gender, age, race and so on. But the most significant discrepancy is this one: the more closely people follow events, the more sympathetic they are to Israel:
This strikes me as an indictment of our news media. People who only casually follow the news have the impression that Israel is pointlessly slaughtering babies–or, at least, that this is a defensible interpretation of what is going on. People who pay close attention–mostly Republicans–know better.
One more observation. On most issues, independents poll closer to Republicans than Democrats. This is why Republicans are competitive in elections year in and year out, even though more people identify themselves as Democrats than as Republicans. But that is not the case with regard to the current conflict in Gaza. In the Gallup survey, at least, independents are almost indistinguishable from Democrats. I have no ready explanation, but it is a troubling finding.