WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – For decades, Americans have overwhelmingly sided with Israel more than Palestinians in the Middle East conflict but the partisan gap between Republicans and Democrats has widened in recent years.
A December Pew Research Center survey found that 50 percent of U.S. adults sympathize more with Israel in its continuing dispute with the Palestinians. Only 10 percent sympathized more with the Palestinians.
Nearly as many – 13 percent – said they sympathized with neither side.
The U.S. and Israeli relationship has come under more scrutiny recently following President Obama’s nomination of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense. Some of Hagel’s former Republican colleagues in Washington have questioned whether he is truly supportive of Israel.
And the views on Israel and Palestine have become increasingly divided along party lines:
The survey found that 70 percent of Republicans backed Israel, while just 2 percent sympathized more with Palestinians. Just over four-in-ten Democrats (41 percent) sympathized more with Israel and 13 percent said they have more support for Palestinians.
Democrats were more likely than Republicans to take neither side in the conflict – 15 percent sympathized with neither side, and 27 percent of Democrats chose to offer no opinion.
The nearly 30-point partisan gap separating Israeli and Palestinian support has held steady in recent years, but the gap was more modest a decade ago, and also shortly after the Israel-Egypt peace agreement in 1978 when the gap was just five points.
Democrat opinion has been stable, while Republican support for Israel has grown in recent years.
In December, 70 percent of Republicans sympathized more with Israel, compared with 56 percent in 2002 and 49 percent in 1978. Among Democrats, the most recent measure (41 percent) was little different from the percentage of Democrats who sympathized more with Israel in 2002 (37 percent) and 1978 (44 percent).
While there was a considerable partisan gap in Middle East sympathies, both parties were also internally divided.
Three-quarters of conservative Republicans (75 percent) sympathized more with Israel, compared with 60 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans. Among Democrats, 46 percent of the party’s conservatives and moderates said they sympathized more with Israel, compared with 33 percent of liberals.
Over half of white evangelical Protestants (46 percent) said that the United States had done too little to support Israel, by far the highest percentage of any religious group.