About 2 percent of the U.S. population is Jewish, some 6.3 million Americans. Most of those old enough to be members of political parties are Democrats, according to PRRI’s 2021 “Census of American Religion.”
The Democratic Party is also, according to newly published research from Gallup, more sympathetic to Palestinians in that group’s conflict with Israelis than are members of other political parties.
At the outset, it’s worth pointing out that while most Jewish Americans are Democrats, the opposite is not true. About 3 percent of Democrats are Jewish, three times the percentage of Republicans but only a small fraction of the party. Even if Jewish Democrats were fervently supportive of Israelis relative to Palestinians, it wouldn’t necessarily have a large effect on the party’s overall position.
But this partisan identification has held even as the party has grown increasingly warm toward Palestinians. Gallup’s data shows that Democrats, like independents and Republicans, still are more likely to view Israel more favorably than the Palestinian Authority.
But Democrats have increasingly viewed the Palestinian government positively over the past two decades while views of Israel have largely remained flat. Among Republicans, the opposite is true. Among independents, both have seen increased favorability in Gallup’s polling.
Over the past decade, there’s been another shift among Democrats. In 2014, Democrats were more likely to say they view Israelis more sympathetically in this conflict than Palestinians. Since then, the gap has closed fairly steadily. In the most recent Gallup poll, Democrats were more likely to view Palestinians sympathetically than they were to view Israelis that way.
This prompts a hard-to-answer question: What spurred the shift?
2014 through 2016 was a tumultuous period in American politics, obviously — as was 2014 through 2023, really. But there were important developments in that period that might have had an influence. An outbreak of violence in the Gaza Strip in 2014, for example, was blamed on Palestinians by Republicans, but on both sides by Democrats.
In early 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by Republican leaders to address Congress. The invitation triggered a huge political dispute, in part because the invitation intentionally excluded the Obama administration and in part because it was centered on bolstering opposition to a deal with Iran that the Obama White House hoped to finalize.
Once Donald Trump entered Republican politics, the association between the Republican Party and Israel (usually through the lens of Netanyahu) was bolstered. Trump echoed the evangelical right’s embrace of Israel and repeatedly used Israel as a proxy for American Jews. Netanyahu and Trump forged a strong relationship — no doubt increasing skepticism among American Democrats about his government.
In the same time frame, a movement to boycott or divest from Israeli businesses gained energy on the left. The BDS effort, as it is called, is focused on pressuring Israel to change its treatment of Palestinians. The movement has been broadly criticized by Israeli officials and many prominent voices in the United States.
It’s not only Democrats who have increasingly shifted their sympathies to Palestinians. Among independents, there’s been a trend toward the Palestinians since 2015. Even among Republicans, sympathy for the Israelis has softened slightly.
In part, this is a function of a wide age gap on views of hostilities. Members of the millennial generation — a group that’s largely too young to remember the shape of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the 1980s and 1990s — are much more sympathetic to Palestinians than older Americans. Among older generations, a shift in favor of Israelis in recent years reversed; they are now about as supportive of Israelis relative to Palestinians as they were 15 years ago. It’s unclear whether that trend will continue.
Young Americans, it’s important to note, are also much more heavily aligned with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. While Jewish Americans might have only a modest effect on the party’s position, younger Americans will have a significant one. That the BDS movement has been heavily centered on college campuses probably plays a role here, too.
Interestingly, the new Gallup survey data follows a new push among well-known New York Democrats for their party to be supportive of Israel. Former New York mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at Harvard University, where he offered a “progressive case for Israel.” Former New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo — who resigned his position in 2021 and who regularly jockeyed with de Blasio for attention — announced the formation of a group called “Progressives for Israel.”
Here, too, the distinction is important: Support for Israelis is not interchangeable with support for Israel or its government. Last year, polling from Pew Research Center found that only 37 percent of Democrats viewed the Israeli government favorably, compared with 66 percent of Republicans. Sixty percent of Democrats viewed the Israeli people favorably, compared with 78 percent of Republicans.
Research published by Pew in 2020 offered another important piece of information. Two-thirds of older Jewish Americans felt very or somewhat attached to Israel. Fewer than half of Jewish Americans under 30 did.
Both age groups also said it was more important that their grandchildren share their political convictions than that they be Jewish.
This article originally misstated the nature of the finding on foreign countries. The results center on the countries, not residents of the countries. This version has been corrected.