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Issue 3, Spring 2021

What Do Americans Think of Israel? Long-Term Trends and Socio-Demographic Shifts

By: Eytan Gilboa


This study focuses on American attitudes toward several key bilateral dimensions of U.S. relations with Israel. It presents and analyses long-term trends based on numerous national public opinion polls conducted in the United States (U.S.) from 2000 to 2020. The first part explores overall views of Israel, perceptions of Israel as a U.S. ally and levels of American support for Israel. The second part presents data  analysis of general views of Israel among several groups including Republicans and Democrats, American Jews, Christian Evangelicals, Hispanics, and African Americans. The final section explores views registered in 2020 by gender, race, age, education, party, and ideology. Since 2000, between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans have held highly stable favorable views of Israel. They have considered Israel a close U.S. ally and thought U.S. support for Israel has been “adequate” or even “too little.” Socio-demographics, however, expose gaps among parties and groups.

While discussing American public opinion toward Israel, scholars, journalists, commentators and politicians often confuse opinions on Israel with opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and views of the state and the people of Israel with opinions on the Israeli government. They frequently use the distribution of responses to a question pollsters have asked about sympathies for Israel versus the Palestinians, and they primarily cite results from the Gallup Poll (Gilboa, 1987, 13-171; 2009, 66-69; 2020, 41-44) and the Pew Research Center (2018). Cofman Wittes and Shapiro (2018) rightly argue that the sympathy questions measure attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not opinions on Israel: “This misleading framing reinforces an existing problem: that Israel is conflated in the public mind with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Israeli domestic policies and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have influenced American attitudes toward Israel, but much less than most analysts had suggested. The American public has distinguished between Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and between Israelis and their government. This study focuses on American attitudes toward several key bilateral dimensions  of U.S. relations with Israel and excludes opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues.

Theories of public opinion suggest that the approaches, policies, and behavior of heads of states and the personal relations they have between them have considerable influence on attitudes. Four American presidents served in the White House from 2000 to 2020: Bill Clinton, Democrat (2000), George W. Bush, Republican (2001-2008), Barack Obama, Democrat (2009-2016) and Donald Trump, Republican (2017-2020). Four Prime Ministers (PMs) served in Israel during the same period: Ehud Barak, Labor-left  (2000-2001), Ariel Sharon, Likud-right and Kadima-center-right (2001-2006), Ehud Olmert, Kadima (2006-2009) and Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud (since 2009).

Due to life experiences and fundamental political and world outlook, Democratic presidents usually worked better with Israeli Labor PMs and Republican presidents with Likud PMs. Obama had an exceptionally tense relationship with Netanyahu over the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and relations with the Palestinians. Trump, in a complete reversal of Obama’s approach, established close relations with Netanyahu. Thus, a key question this study seeks to answer is whether Netanyahu’s confrontations with Obama on the one hand, and his very close relations with Trump on the other hand, had any effects on attitudes toward Israel.

Any assessment of public opinion requires careful reading, analysis and understanding of how surveys are conducted and interpreted. Studies and newspaper reporting of surveys usually focus on the results of a single poll and rarely place them within long-term trends. Long-term trends, however, provide more reliable information on the distribution of opinions than periodic snapshots, and only trends enable tracing of changes over time. This study constructs trends in opinions toward Israel based on numerous national polls conducted in the U.S. from 2000 to 2020. 

When studies of U.S.-Israel relations address the public opinion factor, they often refer to general trends, but to better understand the structure of opinions and future trends, it is necessary to delve into the distribution of opinions among socio-demographic groups. This study presents information and analysis of this distribution. Any research with public opinion surveys faces methodological difficulties. The sampling, the formulation of questions and answers, the number and order of questions, the type, format and timing of questionnaires or interviews could yield very different results. Thus, this study provides information on these factors. 

Public opinion surveys influence opinions and, therefore, stakeholders often commission biased polls to make a political statement, not to discover what the public really thinks. This work employs results of national surveys conducted mostly by the most prestigious and reputable polling agencies such as the Gallup Poll and the Pew Research Centre and polling institutes of universities such as Harris-Harvard and Quinnipiac.1 Non-biased surveys conducted or commissioned by media outlets such as CNN, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, NBC, The New York Times, Fox News, and The Economist were also used.

The article includes two parts. The first presents and analyses general trends in views of Israel, perceptions of Israel as a U.S. ally and levels of American support for Israel. The second part presents data and analysis of general views of Israel among Republicans, Democrats, American Jews, Christian Evangelicals, Hispanics, and African Americans. The final section investigates the distribution of attitudes toward Israel registered in 2020 by gender, race, age, education, party, and ideology.

General Trends
An attitude differs from an opinion. An attitude is a frame of mind affecting one’s thoughts or behavior – a psychological tendency to evaluate a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor (Tourangeau & Galešic, 2007). An opinion is an expression of an attitude – an explicitly expressed response to a stimulus. An “attitude structure” represents a combination of specific attitudes (Fabrigar & Wegener, 2010). For example, a series of responses to certain questions about issues may reveal whether a person is liberal or conservative, religious or secular. Based on this identification, it is possible to predict what the person’s opinions would be on other issues. An attitude structure may indicate a consistent  and enduring frame of mind. This section presents and analyses the evolution of basic American attitudes toward Israel since 2000 via three frames: general views of Israel, perceptions of Israel as a U.S. ally and levels of American support for Israel.

Overall Views of Israel
Pollsters have used the terms “favorable” versus “unfavorable” to gauge views of peoples and nations, including Israel. Americans have always had highly favorable views of Israel, and long-term trends were mostly stable from 2000 to 2020. Substantial majorities of between two-thirds and three-quarters of respondents held favorable opinions of Israel, while between one-third and one-quarter held an unfavorable opinion. Favorability ratings of Israel increased 12%, from 62% in 2000 to 74% in 2020 (See Figure 1). These results clearly reveal an attitude structure favorable to Israel.

During the first decade of this century, the favorability scores were between 58% and 71%, and the average was 64%. Since 2012, all but two results were over 70%, and the average climbed to 70%. The highest favorable-to-unfavorable ratios, 74% to 23% and 74% to 25%, were respectively registered in 2018 and 2019 during Trump’s term, and probably reflected his warm and close ties with Israel. The unfavorability score went down slightly from 28% in 2000 to 25% in 2020. The highest unfavorability score, 35%, was registered twice, in 2002 and 2004, and the lowest ratio, 58% to 35%, was also registered in 2002. These relatively lower results appeared during the second year of the violent Second Palestinian Intifada.2 

Israel as a U.S. Ally
One clear measure of similar interests and close relations between states is the trust they have in each other. Michael Oren (2011), Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. (2009-2013), defined a close U.S. ally in the following way:

On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America’s values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people’s beliefs. Tactically, an ally stands with the United States through multiple conflicts and promotes its global vision. From its location at one strategic crossroads, an ally enhances American intelligence and defense capabilities, and provides ports and training for U.S. forces.

American presidents, members of Congress and senior officials often describe Israel as one of the closest American allies in the world, and certainly the closest ally in the Middle East (Kramer, 2006). This fundamental attitude persisted even in periods of disagreement and tension between the two countries. In March 1993, in a press conference with Itzhak Rabin, Clinton said, “I believe strongly in the benefit to American interests from strengthened relationships with Israel… We have begun a dialog intended to raise our relationship to a new level of strategic partnership, partners in the pursuit of peace, partners in the pursuit of security” (American Presidency Project, 1993). In May 2008, George W. Bush told the Israeli Knesset, “The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul (Knesset, 2008). In April 2010, even Obama (2010), considered one of the least friendly presidents to Israel, stated:

Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests…All sides should understand that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and that no wedge will be driven between us.

Trust can be gauged by the distribution of responses to a question whether one considers a state to be a “close ally,” a “reliable ally,” or a “friend.” From 2000 to 2019, polls by Gallup, CNN and The Economist show some fluctuations over time, but the trend has been consistently pro-Israel. The highest average result for Israel in the combined “ally-friendly” category was 82% of which 49% said Israel is a U.S. “ally,” while the lowest figure still shows two-thirds of the public considers Israel as an “ally” or a “friend.” In the Gallup Poll, from 2000 to 2018, the “ally-friendly” score went up 19%, from 60% in 2000 to 79% in 2018, and that same year, the score in the CNN poll was 75%. The high scores of 2018 and even of 2019 may have resulted from Trump’s strong support of Israel (See Table 1).

In a 2013 Fox News Poll (Appendix 1, Q.1), 77% of the respondents said Israel was a “strong ally” or  15% selected the “somewhat of an enemy” or the “bitter enemy” options (PollingReport, 2019). In 2017, the percentage of respondents saying Israel was an “ally” of the U.S. rose to 83% and the number saying Israel was an “enemy” fell to only 10%.

Israel achieved excellent scores also in comparison to other countries. In a 2003 survey, Fox News asked respondents to evaluate eight nations in terms of being a “friend” or “not a friend” of the U.S. Israel was ranked second as a “friend” by a ratio of 70% to 16%. Only Britain outranked Israel on this measure, and Israel was far ahead of Germany, France, and Saudi Arabia (PollingReport, 2014). The Harris Poll found in July 2007 that Israel was ranked fourth among 25 countries, below Great Britain, Canada and Australia, but ahead of Japan, Italy, South Korea, Germany, and Mexico.

In 2017, Pew (Appendix 1, Q.2) ranked Israel third as “the most important partner for American foreign policy,” after Britain and China and above all the other countries (iPoll, 2020). In 2018, it was ranked fourth after Britain, China, and Canada, and in 2019, it tied for third place with Canada after Britain and China and above all the other countries. These results clearly demonstrate the importance of Israel in the eyes of the public. In the Middle East, Israel stood out as the most reliable and closest U.S. ally. In March 2017, the Harvard-Harris Poll (Appendix 1, Q.3) ranked Israel first at 62%, with all the other countries far behind: Egypt, 31%, Turkey (a NATO member) 29%, Saudi Arabia 28% and Iraq 13% (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020a).

As these various surveys indicate, since 2000, overwhelming majorities of Americans considered Israel as an ally or a friend of the U.S., ranked Israel very high on a comparative scale with other allies, viewed Israel as the best ally of the U.S. in the Middle East, and one of the most important partners for American foreign policy.

Levels of American Support
General favorable feelings are not always translated into actual support for policies and actions. Polling questions about the desirable levels of support may shed light on the willingness of Americans to translate basic favorable attitudes into more demanding commitments. Pollsters have asked national samples of Americans to evaluate the level of U.S. support for Israel. From 2001 to 2019, the most frequent answer was “about right” averaging 45%. The average result for the combined responses “about right” and “too little” was 65%. Thus, about two-thirds of respondents thought the U.S. support for Israel was right and should be increased (See Table 2).
The highest combined score, 85%, was registered in 2013 and the lowest figure, 55%, in 2011. The lowest ratio (59% “about right/too little” vs. 35% “too much”) appeared during the second year of the Second Intifada, while the highest ratio (85% vs. 11%) was found in February 2013, about two months after Israel conducted the “Pillar of Defense” military operation in Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli cities and towns. The surveys also revealed strong support for U.S. military aid to Israel (Gilboa, 2020, 31-36).  

II. Socio-Demographics
Studies of U.S.-Israel relations often cite only general trends in American public opinion toward Israel. A deeper understanding of public opinion, however, requires socio-demographic analysis to determine the views of different social groups about Israel and the sources of their views. Socio-demographic analysis also helps to forecast future trends. This section presents data and analysis of attitudes toward Israel among various groups in the American society, including Republicans and Democrats, American Jews, Christian Evangelicals, Hispanics, and African Americans. It also reveals distributions of views registered in 2020 by gender, race, age, education, party, and ideology.

Republicans vs. Democrats
For decades, Israel enjoyed strong bipartisan political support in Washington. Republicans and Democrats almost evenly supported Israel. This bipartisanship factor helped to achieve Congressional passage of legislation and resolutions favorable towards Israel and to secure high levels of military aid. Surveys now reveal that this pattern may have changed, with varying opinions of, and support for, Israel by party and ideology from 2001 to 2019. Differences were identified among four groups: Conservative Republicans, Moderate-Liberal Republicans, Democrats and Liberal Democrats (See Figure 2).

Since 2001, favorable views of Israel among all the groups went up considerably. Republicans, however, have viewed Israel much more favorably than Democrats. Conservative Republicans held the highest level of favorable opinions and liberal Democrats the lowest. The opinions of Moderate-Liberal Republicans and Moderate-Conservative Democrats were closer. Overall, however, the gap between Republicans and Democrats has been growing. The Gallup annual favorability surveys showed that between 2015 and 2018 the gap oscillated between 13% and 15%. In 2019, it rose to 17% and in 2020 it went further up to 24% – the highest ever.

The gap between Republicans and Democrats increased due to three interrelated developments: the growing polarization in American politics, Netanyahu’s confrontations with Obama over Iran and the Palestinians and his close relations with Trump, and the leftward tilt of the Democratic party as evident in the growing influence of the party’s “progressive” branch.

American Jews 
Most American Jews have always felt close to Israel. The best way to gauge this sentiment has been a question frequently asked about “emotional attachment” to Israel. The 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey (2005) found that roughly seven out of ten Jews said they felt “very” (32%) or “somewhat” (37%) emotionally attached to Israel. In 2013, Pew (2013) found almost identical results, with about seven out of ten American Jews (69%) saying they were “emotionally very attached” (30%) or “somewhat attached” (39%) to Israel. Roughly 65% of Jewish Democrats and 69% of Independents said they felt at least “somewhat” attached to Israel, but a much larger share of Jewish Republicans (84%), expressed the same sentiment, including half who said they felt “very attached.” 

Despite reservations and criticism of the Israeli government’s handling of domestic religious matters and the confrontations between Netanyahu and Obama over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and relations with the Palestinians, it seems that American Jews’ basic attachment to Israel has only slightly changed during the years. In December 2019, the Ruderman Family Foundation (2020) found two-thirds of the respondents saying they were “emotionally attached” to Israel, including 32% who selected the “very attached” response, while 31% said they weren’t attached. Over 70% felt that their personal relationship with Israel had “remained the same” or “was stronger” than it was five years ago. Liberal Jews, however, said their relationship had grown weaker than that of their counterparts.

When results are analyzed by age, religious denomination, and engagement with the Jewish community, interesting variations emerge. The majority in each group felt attached. In this survey, age did not make much difference, but the other variables did. The more religious the group was, the more their attachment fell in the “total” and “very” categories. The gap between Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews was 36%. A similar gap, 37%, was found between those engaged with the community and those who were not (See Table 3).

Evangelical Christians
Evangelical Christians, sometimes called “Christian Zionists,” are known for their strong support of Israel, mostly for theological reasons (Hummel, 2019). Evangelicals—perhaps the most orthodox Christians—have held a particularly favorable attitude toward Israel, but unfortunately only a few surveys explored their opinions.  In a 2017 survey (Rosenberg, 2018), a total of 67% held a “positive” view of Israel and only 9% “a negative view.” Nevertheless, more specific polls show significant differences among Evangelical groups (See Table 4). 

Protestants held much more positive views than Catholics, more frequent churchgoers were more positive than less frequent churchgoers, males were more positive than females, Republicans were more positive than Independents and Democrats, and those with graduate degrees were more positive than those with lower levels of education. The favorability rating went up with age. The youngest held the least favorable view of Israel and the oldest the most.

Hispanics and African Americans 
The attitudes of two ethnic groups have been especially important for Israel: Hispanics and African Americans. Very little empirical data exists on their opinions. LifeWay Research (2017) found among a national sample of Hispanics that 45% held “positive views” of Israel, of whom 12% selected “very positive;” 26% held a “negative view,” of whom 4% selected “very negative;” and 28% chose “not sure.”

In March-April 2019, LifeWay Research (2019) conducted a very similar survey of African Americans, and the results were also like those of the Hispanics: 42% held “positive views,” of Israel, of whom 10% selected “very positive;” 27% held a “negative view,” of whom 3% selected “very negative;” and 32 % chose “not sure.” Thus, contrary to the trends among the general public, less than half of the Hispanic and African American samples had a “positive view” of Israel, and substantial segments, 28% of Hispanics and 32% of African Americans, “weren’t sure.”
Other Groups
A 2020 survey looked at opinions of different countries by socio-demographic groups classified by gender, race, age, education, party, and ideology. With respect to Israel, three-quarters of the respondents viewed Israel favorably and one-quarter unfavorably. Clear majorities in each group viewed Israel favorably, but gaps were found inside the various groups (See Table 5).

Israel received the highest scores among Republicans (91%), Whites, and those over 55 (80%). The other scores were still very high, between 60% and 70%, but less than those of the groups with the highest scores. The lowest scores were found among high school students or graduates (70%), moderates (69%), Democrats (67%), ages 18-34 (66%), Independents (64%), non-Whites (61%), and liberals (60%).  The lowest gap (6%) was between the three levels of education and males and females. The highest gaps were between Republicans and Independents (27%), liberals and conservatives (26%), Whites and non-Whites (19%), and those between ages 18-34 and 55+ (14%).

There are a number of possible explanations for these variances. Young adults know little about Israel, depend on highly distorted information and fake news in social media, and those who are in college are exposed to extreme anti-Israel propaganda campaigns organized mainly by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Hispanics are much more concerned about U.S. relations with neighboring Central and Latin American countries and immigration and are mostly Catholic, a denomination that usually supports Israel less than other Christian denominations. Israel’s enemies in the U.S. have been trying to win the support of African Americans by comparing Israelis to American whites and the Palestinians to American Blacks. Many pro-Palestinian groups have also convinced Blacks of the falsehood that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs is like the treatment of Blacks under apartheid in South Africa.

This study explores perceptions of Israel among the public and various groups in American society. The long-term trends show that since 2000, considerable majorities, between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans, have held highly stable and favorable views of Israel. Favorability ratings of Israel even increased 12%, from 62% in 2000 to 74% in 2020. Similar majorities of Americans have considered Israel as a close and important U.S. ally and thought the U.S. support of Israel has been “adequate” or “too little.” The data and analysis of the general long-term trends imply issue consistency. Those who held favorable views of Israel were also likely to consider Israel a close ally or a friend of the U.S. and believe the U.S. should strongly support Israel.

The socio-demographic data and analysis, however, reveal gaps, sometimes large, between and within groups. Most American Jews, Evangelical Christians, Whites, Republicans, conservative and older people, who may have followed and witnessed the creation and development of the Jewish state, have viewed Israel very favorably. But young adults, non-Whites, Democrats, and liberals have viewed Israel less favorably. Even among Christian Evangelicals, the young, Catholics and Democrats have held fewer positive views. Hispanics and African Americans have held even less favorable feelings toward Israel.

These findings should worry Israel’s leaders, friends, and supporters. First, because the young will become future leaders, and second, the ratio of minorities in American society is rapidly growing at the expense of Whites. Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in American society; they know much less about Israel and are much less interested in U.S.-Israel relations.

Given Netanyahu’s frequent and intense confrontations with Obama and his very close collaboration with Trump, one would assume that during Obama’s two terms the American public would react with less favorable views of Israel; and conversely during the Trump term the opposite would occur. Yet the long-term trends in public opinion refute this hypothesis. By all measures and indicators, the American public’s favorable views of Israel have remained remarkably stable. The levels neither declined during the Obama years nor improved much during the Trump years. The main reason is probably a highly-favorable, solid, consistent, and enduring “attitude structure” that is less sensitive to personalities, policies, and events. Despite the mixed socio-demographic results, this finding may indicate an opportunity to maintain a highly-positive attitude toward, and support for, Israel in the future.


Research for this study was supported by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.  

1 Several comprehensive collections of polling data were used to construct the long-term trends in this study:
iPoll at the Roper Center, Cornell University 
Jewish Virtual Library
Gallup Poll
Pew Research Center
Berman Jewish Databank

2 From September 2000 to February 2005, the Palestinians led a major campaign of terror against Israeli civilians (often euphemized as the “al-Aqsa Intifada,” or the “Second Intifada”). Palestinians conducted suicide bombings in Israeli buses, malls, restaurants, night clubs, schools, coffee shops, and hotels. Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians were killed and wounded.



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Appendix 1
Survey Questions

Q.1: "For each of the following countries, please tell me how you view its relationship with the United States-- do you consider it a strong ally, somewhat of an ally, somewhat of an enemy, or a bitter enemy?...Israel."

Q.2: "Which country currently is the most important partner for American foreign policy… Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain (includes United Kingdom/England), Israel, Japan, Mexico, North Korea, Russia, The European Union (EU)." 

Q.3: "Do you consider each of the following countries an ally, an enemy or a neutral towards the U.S.?"


The opinions and findings expressed in this Brief belong to the authors exclusively and do not reflect those of the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA.