Democrats say Biden and members of Congress lean more towards Israel than they do

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A majority of Americans do not know the position of elected congressional representatives on the Israeli-Palestinian issue

Last polls have shown that there is a wide gap between Democratic Party voters on the one hand and the positions of elected Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration on the other with regard to US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like ours New University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll shows, this includes a split over the issue of boycotting Israel. But is the public aware of the gap? And does it matter for electoral politics?

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In May 2022 Critical Issues Poll of 2,091 respondents appointed by Nielsen Scarborough, we asked how respondents viewed the Biden government’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue compared to their own. Not surprisingly, just over half (54%) didn’t know. But most Democrats who expressed their views said the government’s positions leaned more toward Israel than their own, while most Republicans said the Biden administration leaned more toward Palestine than they were. Overall, 44% of Republicans said the government leaned more towards Palestine, and 9% said it leaned more towards Israel, while 26% of Democrats said the Biden team leaned more towards Israel, and 3% said it leaned more towards Israel. Palestine.

Likewise, we asked about the views of the respondents’ elected congressional representatives. Again, a majority, 56%, said “don’t know,” but a majority of those who expressed their views said their representatives leaned more toward Israel than personally. Notably, about half of Republicans — who have been shown to express strongly pro-Israel views on average — with an opinion (23%) said their representative leaned more toward Israel than they were. Only 15% said the representatives leaned more towards the Palestinians (15%). Of the Democrats who expressed an opinion, 33% said their representatives leaned more toward Israel than they were, while 3% said their representatives leaned more toward the Palestinians.

Attitudes to the BDS Movement

Our poll also found that two-thirds of Democrats wanted the United States to lean neither toward Israel nor toward the Palestinians; among those who wanted the US to take sides, more Democrats, especially young Democrats, wanted the US to side with the Palestinians over Israel. One of the most controversial issues in American political discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been the issue of the boycott of Israel, specifically the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. We have tried to gauge attitudes towards this topic.

Recent polls on BDS are consistent: a large majority of Americans have never heard of BDS. Among the minority of those who have heard of it, there are more Republicans against it than they support it, while more Democrats support it than against it.

In our latest Critical Issues Poll conducted on June 22-28, 2022 among 2,208 respondents, we asked a single question about BDS to all participants, without first examining who had heard of it and who had not, while giving respondents the option ‘don’t know’. In fact, that’s typical of polls in general, as it’s assumed that those who aren’t aware of the matter would be given the “I don’t know” option. The potential benefit of asking everyone is that the answers can provide additional hints about the direction of opinion. For example, even someone who had never heard of the movement can tell from the question that BDS is probably about boycotting Israel and giving an instinctive response. To test this idea, we asked, “What is your stance, if you have one, on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel?”

The answers were telling. Only 34% said they didn’t know, while another 18% said they didn’t support or oppose BDS. Nearly half expressed supportive or opposing views. The split along party lines was similar: 50% of Republicans were strongly or somewhat against BDS, while 9% supported it; at the same time, 33% of Democrats supported BDS, while 10% opposed it.

While large numbers of Americans have never heard of BDS, there are far more Republicans against it than they support it, and far more Democrats support it than against it.

A month earlier, in our May poll, we had taken a different approach, similar to that adopted by the Pew Research Center in a opinion poll treated in March and released in May, with similar results. While the questions and categories were not identical, allowing for exact comparisons, they were close enough to suggest similar trends. Like Pew, we first asked respondents if they had heard of BDS: “How much have you heard about BDS, or the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel?” We then only asked those who said they’d heard at least “a little” about it, in their opinion: “Based on what you’ve heard, do you support or oppose BDS, or the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement?”

We also found that a large number, 70%, had never heard of BDS. Measured attitudes reflected similar trends: Among those who had heard of BDS, more Republicans, 77% (strongly or somewhat), opposed it than were in favor of it, 5%; while more Democrats, 43%, supported it than opposed it, 15%.

In short, various polls, using different methodologies, have consistently suggested that while large numbers of Americans have never heard of BDS, many more Republicans are against it than they are against it, and many more Democrats are against it than are against it.

Americans strongly oppose laws criminalizing boycotts of Israel

Whether they support or oppose boycotts of Israel, do Americans support laws that criminalize the boycott of Israel? This question has become especially relevant because a number of American states passed laws that do just that. Some of these actions have been challenged in court, and a case is on its way to the Supreme Court. But how do Americans feel?

In our May poll, we asked the following question: “Whether you personally support or oppose the boycott of Israel. Which of the following is closest to your opinion?

  1. We must SUPPORT laws that punish people who boycott Israel
  2. We must oppose laws that punish people who boycott Israel

The results were striking: two-thirds of Americans — including 52% of Republicans, 82% of Democrats and 74% of Independents — oppose such laws, while 32% support them.

Two-thirds of Americans, including a slim majority of Republicans, oppose laws that criminalize boycotting Israel

On this point, the Biden administration has not strayed much from public sentiment, having said that while it opposes a boycott of Israel and would oppose BDS efforts in Congress, it supports the right of the Americans to do so. Internationally, however, the government has taken a more aggressive stance, vowing to “fights all attempts to boycott or delegitimize Israel”, including at the United Nations level.


Whatever the causes, the gap in Israel/Palestine between the public and elected congressional officials remains wide, but has narrowed somewhat after the 2018 and 2020 elections. resulted in in the election of some members of Congress who seemed more reflective of Democratic public opinion on the issue. In Democratic politics, the primaries are the relevant arena on this issue, as Republicans overwhelmingly favor Israel, and even Democratic voters who strongly support Israel are unlikely to vote for a Republican candidate in the general election if the Democratic’s position Democratic contender over Israel/Palestine does not match their own. This explains why the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been: expenses millions of dollars in the current primary cycle to defeat candidates deemed insufficiently pro-Israel while working to elect others who are. And since the Democratic public wants the US to be more balanced in Israel/Palestine, in most cases the pro-Israel super-PACs that play in these races don’t mention the rationale in their mission or ads.

The gap between the Biden administration and the democratic public over Israel/Palestine remains wide – and the public is perceiving it. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is not a priority in US politics right now. Even priority foreign policy issues, such as the war between Russia and Ukraine, have been shown to have little impact on the US partisan divide. But that does not mean that these matters do not affect the popularity of the board. It is noteworthy that in an era of deep political polarization, much of the decline in President Joe Biden’s popularity since the spring of 2021 has come from Democrats. Of course, most Democrats will not vote for a Republican opponent, even if they are not enthusiastic about the president. But the degree to which they view the president’s values ​​and policies as consistent with or contrary to their own affairs is the degree to which they are energized. And the overall decline in popularity consequently impacts the assessments of non-democrats. As I noted after the May 2021 Gaza war, Biden’s outspoken pro-Israel stance was at odds with his Democratic voters, many of whom disapproved of his handling of the issue. The simultaneous decline in his popularity came mainly from the Democrats (as did the recent decline). There are many reasons for the decline in popularity, most of which have little to do with foreign policy. But Biden’s deviation from his Democratic voters on Israel/Palestine certainly won’t help.

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