Pew Poll: Democrats, Youth Increasingly Alienated from Israel

A new Pew poll contains ominous findings regarding support for Israel among Americans.  While support within the Republican Party has risen dramatically, Democrats feel increasingly antagonistic toward Israel and its leadership.  Correspondingly, support among Democrats for the Palestinians has risen significantly.

Today, nearly 80% of Republicans sympathize more with Israel (than the Palestinians).  That number was 50% back in 1978, when these figures were first compiled.  For Democrats, only 27% prefer Israel (25% sympathize more with the Palestinians); and that number was 44% forty years ago.

An alarming finding is that the number of Democrats who shifted from siding with either Israel or Palestine to “don’t know” rose significantly (from 17% to 25%).  Apparently, the sheer contentiousness of the conflict has caused many Democrats to retreat from it altogether.

Only 18% of Democrats view Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu favorably, while 50% of Republicans do.  Among liberal Democrats, 49% view him unfavorably.  Nearly half of Democrats say Trump favors Israel too much.

Perhaps the finding with which I feel personally most at odds is that almost half of Americans still believe the two state solution is possible.  Nearly 40% believe it is not.  Democrats favor two states even more strongly.  Among all Americans, 65% those who sympathize more with Palestinians say two states are possible, while 40% of those sympathizing with Israel say it is.

There are two bellwethers among Democratic voters: the young and liberals.  In recent decades, issues (gay and womens’ rights, DACA, diversity, etc.) first championed by these demographic groups began as minority causes and gradually become mainstream–accepted not just within the Party, but within the American mainstream.

I believe that Israel will become such an issue. Add to that, American voters appear likely to turn out the Republicans in 2018 (though it may be premature to render such a prediction) and it appears unlikely they can win the presidency in 2020, given Trump’s abysmal poll ratings.  If the next president is a Democrat and that individual serves for eight years, attitudes toward Israel could shift even more dramatically over that period.  Further, the progressive wing of the Party appears in the ascendancy especially in presidential politics.  If a candidate like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren wins the office, the change could be even more dramatic.

Israel’s far right leaders read the same polls and instead of attempting to combat the downward drift in Democratic support, they embrace it; by throwing their efforts behind a two-pronged alliance with the rapidly expanding Orthodox Jewish community and Christian evangelicals.  Netanyahu has himself declared American non-Orthodox Jews to be dinosaurs who will be swallowed by assimilation; which reminds me of the Mark Twain riposte: “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

This reminds me of that critical period in 1964 when the Democratic Party still controlled the South.  But the civil rights legislation of that era drove a stake through the heart of the Party and led to Republican dominance for the next five decades.  If you review how this Southern Strategy has affected the national GOP, results are quite mixed.  Of the last 7 elections, Democrats have won four and the GOP, three.  As I mentioned, chances are excellent that Democrats, barring any unforeseen disasters, will do exceedingly well in the next one and possibly two presidential contests.  That would mean continuing Democratic dominance of the nation’s highest office.

All this means that Israel’s leadership may be throwing in with the wrong crowd by giving up on Democrats.  If Orthodox Jews don’t grow at the rate expected or if they themselves begin to moderate their views on Israel-Palestine, then where will Israel be then?  If evangelicals lose steam over the next decades either in terms of adherents or their theocratic fervor for Israel, where will that leave Israel’s ultra-nationalists?

As I mentioned, some of what I’ve written here is based on projections of what is likely to happen.  But even if only some of it happens and other aspects don’t, Israel is in for a very rough ride in the coming decades.

As America is increasingly Israel’s strongest (and at times, only) champion in the world, softening of support for Israel here will put increasing pressure on Israel to retreat from its rejectionist approach.  While this alone may not change Israeli policy, added to other negative developments it could play a decisive role.