US public increasingly sympathetic to Palestinians: polls

Americans are becoming increasingly sympathetic toward Palestinians, new polls show
4 min read
Washington, D.C.
28 May, 2021
New polling shows that the trend in US public opinion is moving toward increasing sympathy and solidarity with Palestinians.
A pro-Palestine demonstrator waves a Palestine flag and an American flag at the Pennsylvania State Capitol [Getty]

Times are changing. That’s what polls are finding of Americans’ attitudes towards the Israel-Palestine conflict. A public that until recently consistently supported Israel is now shifting views in a number of areas related to the conflict. 

Among the most recent is a set of polls presented by the Arab American Institute on a Zoom call on Thursday afternoon, followed by experts weighing in on the meaning of these findings. The poll was done the day the ceasefire was announced.   

In one survey, Democrats showed a 51% favourability rating of Palestinians, while 46% said they viewed Israelis favourably. Meanwhile, the majority of Republicans surveyed continued to view Israelis favourably and Palestinians unfavourably.

This was the pattern for most of the questions, with 63% of Democrats saying they supported conditional aid to Israel, compared with 40% of Republicans; 58% of Democrats said boycotts were legitimate, while 40% of Republicans believed so; 54% of Democrat support a balanced US policy between the two sides, while 34% of Republicans supported a balanced policy. 

However, when answering more general questions, Republicans appeared more supportive of equality. When asked if the two communities should be equal people with equal rights, 80% of Democrats agreed, compared with 67% of Republicans.  

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As for the latest crisis, when asked if they agree or disagree that Israel is right in removing Palestinians from their homes, 51% of Democrats disagreed, while Republicans were almost evenly divided between agreeing, disagreeing and being unsure. 

In general, the trend in public opinion is moving toward increasing sympathy and solidarity with Palestinians. However, this remains far from mainstream in the political discourse. With this in mind, what should be expected for US policy in this conflict moving forward? 

It appears that at least the discourse is changing. Rania Batrice, a Palestinian activist and consultant, said that now "members of Congress are talking about the imbalance of power," which she recalled, "felt very different from 15 years ago." 

James Zogby, who presented the findings, has found that as support of the Palestinians becomes more vocal, pro-Israeli campaign funding becomes less explicitly Israeli, as candidates focus on more relevant issues for their constituents.  

This shift appears to be growing and consistent, as similar surveys on this issue have shown in recent years.  They indicate that the elections of progressives, who often speak out against US policy on Israel are not a fluke, but instead point to the values of their constituents. Not only were all members of The Squad re-elected in 2020. They were also joined by new members, including Jamaal Bowman, who ousted longtime Israel supporter Eliot Engel.  

One of the first tests of this new era, noted Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, was the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, who showed that small-scale donations to a progressive campaign would not be a strike against a candidate.  

Since then, campaigns fuelled by small donations have only increased, generally seen as a sign of a genuine grassroots movement. At the same time, said columnist Peter Beinart, also with the Foundation for Middle East Peace, has found that mainstream media is increasingly responsive to social media.  

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These shifts, in combination with the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, he said, show that people are increasingly aware of representation.  

Despite these shifts, the panellists agreed that progressive politicians still have difficult obstacles to overcome. Accusations of antisemitism, said Friedman, are a powerful tool – something that Democrats have not figured out how to defend.  

Still, there is clearly a demand for politicians to speak out for Palestinians. Zogby recalled an instance in the 2016 debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in which Sanders’ statement in support of Palestinians was met with “hollers.” 

Do progressives who speak up for Palestinians stand a chance to affect mainstream US Middle East policy? 

Batrice sees this moment as a time to build on the momentum.  

"Grassroots movements can't be separated from politicians," she said. "Don’t let off the gas pedal."