As the deadly war in Gaza enters its second month, more Americans would now prefer to see the U.S. “working to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas” (41%) than “supporting Israel as it tries to defeat Hamas” (34%), according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
This emerging preference for some sort of peace process going forward reflects a broader public decline in support for Israel’s aggressive military response to the brutal Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 — particularly among Democrats, whose sympathies initially were with Israel but have since shifted away.
A clear majority of Democrats, in fact, now favor the U.S. brokering a ceasefire (56%) rather than continuing to back Israel’s efforts to eliminate Hamas (22%) — a position that puts them at least somewhat at odds with President Biden, who said last Thursday that there was “no possibility” of Israel agreeing to a ceasefire before the militant group is defeated (even as his administration has worked to broker “humanitarian pauses” and urged Israel to minimize civilian casualties).
Support for Israel slips
The survey of 1,584 U.S. adults — which was conducted from Nov. 9 to 13, almost exactly one month after the start of the war — found softening support for Israel across a range of questions:
36% of Americans now say their sympathies lie more with Israel than the Palestinians, down from 43% right after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.
53% now rate Israel favorably, down from 58%.
29% now say the U.S. is “too supportive” of Israel, up from 23%.
20% now hold Israel mostly or entirely responsible for the current hostilities, up from 16%.
50% now say it is an important goal for the U.S. to help protect Palestinians, up from 43%.
And 38% (down from 47%) favor Israel “taking further military action against Hamas to protect Israeli citizens,” while 30% (up from 24%) want Israel to “de-escalate military action against Hamas to avoid harming Palestinian civilians.”
As these data points demonstrate, Americans have not turned against Israel en masse; majorities or pluralities continue to favor the Jewish state and its position on the war. The combined number of Americans who say “the military response from Israel in the Gaza Strip” has been “about right” (25%) or has “not gone far enough” (16%), for instance, remains higher than the number who say Israel’s response has “gone too far” (30%).
Democrats now think Israel has “gone too far,” prefer de-escalation
Yet the overall gap between pro- and anti-Israel sentiment has narrowed, in large part because sentiment has shifted on the left side of the U.S. political spectrum. A plurality of Democrats now think Israel has gone too far (45%); fewer think Israel’s response has been about right (23%) or has not gone far enough (6%).
While Republicans' views have remained staunchly pro-Israel — 62% now say they are more sympathetic to the Jewish state, essentially unchanged from last month’s number (65%) — Democratic opinion has fluctuated.
The share of Democrats who expressed greater sympathy for Israel than Palestinians — just 13% during previous hostilities in May 2021 — increased by 22 points to 35% right after Oct. 7.
Today, however, it has slipped back down to 22%, while 21% of Democrats now describe themselves as more sympathetic to Palestinians, up from 9% one month ago, and 40% say their sympathies are “about equal.”
Twice as many Democrats also say they now prefer de-escalation (45%) to further military action (23%), whereas last month slightly more Democrats favored further military action (37% versus 32% in favor of de-escalating to avoid civilian casualties.)
Among independents, the preference for de-escalation has risen 7 points since October (from 23% to 30%).
Overall, two-thirds of Americans (67%) — including 74% of Democrats — favor some sort of “pause” in Israel’s military action “to allow humanitarian aid to enter and to help protect Palestinian civilians.” But they differ on preconditions: 37% of Americans believe such a pause should occur “only if Hamas releases hostages,” while 30% believe it should occur “without preconditions.”
Again, political divides are apparent: A plurality of Democrats (46%) want a pause without preconditions; a majority of Republicans (51%) and a plurality of independents (40%) want a pause only if hostages are released.
The challenge ahead for Biden
Evolving opinion among Democrats presents a challenge for Biden. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only specific issue on which his job-approval rating has changed significantly since October, with approval falling by four points (from 36% to 32%) and disapproval rising by 10 (from 40% to 50%). Among 2020 Biden voters, approval of the president’s handling of the war has declined by 9 points (from 59% to 50%) while disapproval has climbed by 11 points (from 20% to 31%).
Partisan dynamics around Israel and the war help account for Biden’s especially low numbers on the issue. Just 26% of Americans say the president’s “response so far to the situation with Israel and Hamas” has been “just right,” with nearly equal numbers saying instead that he has been either “too pro-Israel” (19%) or “not pro-Israel enough” (20%).
In short, Biden gets little credit from either side. Nearly half (49%) of those whose sympathies lie more with Israel (a group that is disproportionately Republican) say Biden has been “not pro-Israel enough,” while 67% of the (disproportionately Democratic) group whose sympathies lie more with the Palestinians say Biden has been “too pro-Israel.”
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,584 U.S. adults interviewed online from Nov. 9 to 13, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to Nov. 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.