A plurality of Americans say the United States should recognize Palestine as an independent nation, even as public sympathies continue to lie with Israel in the ongoing Middle East dispute, according to a new poll by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center.
The issue of statehood — the subject of heated diplomacy at the United Nations General Assembly — is one that also draws significant ambivalence from an American public overwhelmingly focused on domestic issues. About a third of all those surveyed expressed no opinion about U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state, and nearly four in 10 did not offer an assessment of President Obama’s policies in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
Fully a quarter of Americans express no opinion when asked for their “sympathies” between the two parties, a near high in polls back to 1982. In all, 40 percent say they side with the Israelis, 10 percent with the Palestinians, and 21 percent volunteer “neither.” Among those paying “a lot” of attention to the statehood issue, a majority — 55 percent — sympathize with Israel; 19 percent with the Palestinians.
Those who are closely tuned into the matter are also more apt to oppose statehood and more likely than others to see Obama as overly favoring the Palestinians.
Overall, 20 percent of Americans say Obama is overly favoring the Palestinians, four times the number saying he’s too closely aligned with Israel (5 percent). More, 37 percent, say he’s “striking about the right balance,” and, as noted, 38 percent expressed no opinion one way or the other. The numbers represent a shift from “right balance” to “no opinion” since a May Pew poll, perhaps reflecting the thin attention Americans are paying to the issue as well as genuine attitude shifts.
Republicans (37 percent) are more likely than independents (23 percent) and Democrats (3 percent) to say Obama is overly favoring the Palestinians in the dispute.
The May poll followed Obama’s major speech about U.S. policy toward a central issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the status of the pre-1967 borders. The questions on the subject in that survey also followed political ones. In the new poll, fully 51 percent say they’ve heard “nothing at all” about the planned United Nations debate over the Palestinian authority’s statehood status. In interviews Thursday through Sunday, only 10 percent said they’ve heard a lot about it.
Similarly, 32 percent giving no answer to the statehood question itself is about three times higher than it was in a Post-ABC News poll seven months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the issue — and foreign policy in general — was more front-and-center.
Still, 42 percent of Americans say they back U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state; 26 percent oppose such a move. More than half of all Democrats — 54 percent — support Palestinian statehood, as do 45 percent of independents. Among Republicans, support slides to 27 percent. Support for Palestine as an independent nation is closely related to age: among those under 30, 58 percent back U.S. recognition, support then slides downward in each age bracket, bottoming out at 27 percent among those ages 65 and up.
Opposition to an independent state peaks at 47 percent among those paying a lot of attention to the matter, but even here a sizable 16 percent express no opinion.
The poll was conducted Sept. 15 to 18, among a random sample of 1,006 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percent points.
Read the full poll results.