Majority of Americans Back Israel as Democrats Split Over War With Hamas, WSJ Poll Finds

Israeli troops prepare weapons and military vehicles by the border fence before entering the Gaza Strip on December 10, 2023, amid ongoing battles with the Palestinian Hamas group. (Photo: AFP)
Israeli troops prepare weapons and military vehicles by the border fence before entering the Gaza Strip on December 10, 2023, amid ongoing battles with the Palestinian Hamas group. (Photo: AFP)

Summary

U.S. attitudes on the conflict reflect partisan and generational divides. President Biden received low marks for his response to the war.

WASHINGTON—U.S. public opinion remains favorable toward Israel in its war with Hamas, but just over a third of Americans say they are equally sympathetic to both the Israeli and Palestinian people, a new Wall Street Journal poll finds.

Fifty-five percent of those polled said they believe Israel is taking the military action needed to defend itself and prevent another attack by Hamas, compared with 25% of respondents who said Israel’s military action is disproportionate and going too far.

In terms of attitudes toward the conflict, some 42% of voters said they sympathized more with the Israeli people, compared with 12% who said the same of the Palestinian people. U.S. attitudes on the conflict reflect partisan and generational divides, as fighting enters its third month.

President Biden received low marks for his response to the war, with 37% of those polled saying they approved of his handling of the conflict, compared with 52% of people who disapproved. The low marks are consistent with Biden’s overall approval ratings, which according to the Journal poll are at the weakest point of his presidency.

The poll mirrored some of the heightened tensions across the country. A wave of pro-Palestinian protests has swept college campuses and major cities, resulting in counterprotests and a contentious debate over free speech.

Age and party affiliation were factors when it came to sentiment toward Israelis and Palestinians, the Journal poll found. Nearly a quarter of Democrats said they were more sympathetic to Palestinians, compared with 17% who said they sympathized more with the Israeli people. Just under half said they were equally sympathetic to both.

By contrast, more than two-thirds of Republicans said they were more sympathetic to Israelis, compared with 2% who sympathized more with the Palestinians and 17% who said they sympathized with both groups.

Just over a third of independents said they were more sympathetic to Israelis, while 11% said they were more sympathetic to Palestinians, and about a third said they sympathized with both.

Undecided voters were more likely to say that the U.S. is doing too much for the Israeli government and too little for Palestinians.

Biden has staunchly backed Israel throughout the conflict, drawing backlash from Muslim and Arab-American voters, as well as progressives. While his stance is consistent with decades of bipartisan support for Israel, the poll suggests the president also risks alienating younger Democrats who are increasingly sympathetic to Palestinians.

Democrats under the age of 50 said they have more sympathy with the Palestinians by a margin of 35% to 13%, while Democrats over 50 sympathized more with Israelis by a margin of 22% to 12%.

“There is a schism between younger Democrats and older Democrats in where their sympathies lie," said Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Michael Bocian. “It has the potential to become a modern-day Vietnam for the Democrats."

Wyn Helming, a 24-year-old resident of Madison, Wis., said she has participated in protests calling for a cease-fire.

“We have a chance to actually do something about it, and it would be so wrong not to," she said. “The politicians aren’t listening to us, no matter what we say."

Although the war has dominated the news cycle over the past two months, the poll found Americans were primarily concerned with issues such as the economy and immigration going into the 2024 presidential election. A small percentage of voters ranked foreign policy as a top priority, but not the Israel-Hamas war specifically.

Voters were generally split on whether the U.S. is doing too much or too little to support the Israelis and to support the Palestinians. A little more than a fifth of people said the U.S. is doing too much to support the Israeli people, while a quarter said the U.S. is doing too little, and just over a third said the U.S. is doing about the right amount.

When asked about the Palestinian people, 21% of respondents said the U.S. is doing too much to support them, compared with about a fourth who said the U.S. is doing too little, and just under a third who said the Palestinians have received the right amount of support from the U.S.

An overwhelming majority of Republicans said Israel is taking the military action needed to defend itself, as did a slim majority of independents. Nearly half of Democrats said Israel’s actions are disproportionate.

“I think Israel’s totally justified," said Ray Buch, 66, of Reading, Pa. “Hamas started the whole thing. They knew what the repercussions were."

Buch, a registered independent and retiree, also blamed the civilian casualties in Gaza on Hamas. “They didn’t care about their people," he said. “I’m sorry, but they’re a casualty of war."

Authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say at least 17,000 Palestinians have been killed so far. Some 80% of Gazans have been displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations. The U.N. has said its operations in Gaza are on the brink of collapse. Israel has said the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas killed 1,200 people.

Raleigh Whestle, a 67-year-old Democrat who lives north of Denver, said he would like to see an end to the war.

“Israel needs to stop doing what they are right now. They can’t be killing as many women and children as they are," said Whestle, who is retired. “You can understand what the response [to Oct. 7] is, but it is way, way too much."

Whestle said his views were informed in part by having lived through the Vietnam War and the scale of its civilian cost. “It’s something that kind of lingers," he said.

Write to Sabrina Siddiqui at sabrina.siddiqui@wsj.com

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