The London based polling and data analytics company YouGov has recently conducted a survey of Americans who were asked their opinion on multiple foreign nations. As the US and Israel have a long standing alliance, many observers were surprised with the data resulting from answers that a wide variety of Americans gave about Israel.
According to the poll, Israel tends to arouse negative feelings among young Americans, poor Americans, left leaning Americans, female Americans, non-white Americans and supporters of the Democratic party. By contrast, older Americans, richer Americans, male Americans, white Americans and supporters of the Republican party tended to have a favourable view of Israel.
Of Americans aged between 18-29, only 25% of this age demographic called Israel an ally. Among those aged 30-44, the percentage who view Israel as an ally rose only modestly to 27%. Among those aged 44-64, a much more favourable view of Israel was offered with 42% of this category considering Israel as an ally of the US. For those over the age of 65, 55% viewed Israel as friendly.
When broken down by gender, 46% of all males surveyed felt that Israel is a US ally while among females only 29% agreed that Israel was an ally.
In terms of race, 43% of white Americans viewed Israel as an ally compared with only 19% of African-Americans and 22% of Latino Americans.
When broken down by family income, only 29% of those earning less than $50,000 a year viewed Israel as an ally compared with 49% of Americans earning over $100,00 annually.
An even larger gap was demonstrated among Americans divided into party political and ideological qualifiers. Among those who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, 65% saw Israel as an ally of America while among those who voted for the equally pro-Israel candidate Hillary Clinton, only 29% found Israel to be an ally.
Removing Trump and Clinton from the equation, among Americans who consider themselves liberal, 27% viewed Israel as an ally compared with 33% of those identifying as moderate and 60% of those identifying as conservative.
Making matters more intriguing, while Israel was still viewed in more favourable terms overall than nations with which Washington has a history of poor relations, when asked whether Russia, Iran, China or North Korea were allies of the US, younger Americans across the board tended to say yes more frequently than older ones. Inversely, when asked about long standing modern US allies like Japan, Germany, South Korea and the United Kingdom, older Americans were far more likely to call such nations allies than younger people who expressed scepticism about nations that Washington has very close relations with.
Taken in totality, it is fair to say that younger Americans are clearly challenging the status quo of American geopolitical partnerships across the board. Yet crucially, the gap between the views of old and young regarding Israel’s status as a US ally is the widest of all the nations on the survey at a staggering 30% difference. The second biggest gap between the views of young and old regarding the status of a foreign power as an ally is displayed in a survey regarding views on the United Kingdom where the gap between old and young was 22%. Among every other nation on the survey, the gap between young and old was considerably less pronounced in terms of having a statistically notable gap between young and old.
Therefore it can be concluded that of all of the nations over which young and old are polarised, Israel is the most polarising. This polarisation is also particularly wide when it comes to Israel among other statistical breakdowns.
Traditionally, it has been said that the young tend to be less inclined towards being conservative than the old while it has also been said that the more income one has, the more conservative one becomes. In the US in particular it has also been noted that females tend to be less conservative than males while non-white Americans also tend to be less conservative overall than white Americans.
Therefore, it can be concluded that most Americans view support for Israel as a specifically conservative cause while inversely it can be concluded that non-conservative Americans view Palestine as a cause of their own. To understand the significance of this, one must understand that in the modern western psyche, being a victim or existing in a state of oppression (whether economically, socially or politically) tends to be viewed as a cause with which leftists are sympathetic while conservatives tend to be stereotyped as more aloof from such concerns.
To contextualise this, it is necessary to understand that the geopolitical and sociological narratives proffered by Israel and Palestine both seek to portray each respective side as the victim of oppression. According to the Israeli narrative, it was necessary for the state of Israel to be formed in Palestine as Europe was no longer a safe place for Jews to live without being oppressed. Likewise, over time, the authors of Israel’s national narrative also stated that Israel is uniquely a victim of aggression from neighbouring Arab states and terrorists.
The Palestinian narrative equally surrounds a culture of oppression where it is said that Palestinians are victims of large scale land theft by European Jewish colonists who in subsequent decades have attacked largely unarmed Palestinian civilian populations with some of the world’s most advanced weapons, all the while prohibiting Palestinians from attaining political rights and national self-determination. Clealry, one sees two competing narratives that are each framed around the concepts of projecting victimhood onto one’s own people while projecting aggression onto the respective opponent.
Thus, with two narratives of victimhood to choose from, among Americans whose demographic realities indicate a penchant for supporting a victimised people, the choice has been made not to support Israel – something which typically means having sympathy if not outright support for Palestine. Inversely, conservatives who are less prone to champion a victim tend to associate with Israel, an entity seen by its opponents as an aggressor but which sees itself as a victim. In the battle for the most convincing victimhood narrative among the demographic most likely to respond to such a narrative, Palestine’s victimhood narrative is seen as more authentic among Americans than that of Israel.
The survey’s conclusions also indicate that the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement is winning adherents among its young and increasingly multi-cultural target demographic. While veteran musicians like Roger Waters, Brian Eno and Elvis Costello have long supported BDS, just this year, the young pop stars Lana Del Rey and Lorde each cancelled a performance in Israel after BDS campaigned for them to withdraw their appearance. Unless the self-evidently apolitical Del Rey and Lorde suddenly developed a political steak, it is fair to assess that they both felt that performing on stage in Israel would garner more negative publicity among their young American fan base than withdrawing from their respective performances. This itself means that BDS is becoming popular or at least fashionable among young Americans with a well known appetite for the latest pop music.
None of this however means that US policy towards Israel will change as the leadership of both major American parties remains pro-Israel. Yet incidentally, the leadership of both parties also remains comprised mostly of older, mostly white, mostly male and almost exclusively wealthy individuals. Thus, when one realises this, the YouGov survey actually says as much about the internal political realities of the US as it does about what Americans think about foreign nations.