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Americans are split over Israel's response in its war with Hamas

Thousands of demonstrators in support of Israel gather on the National Mall in Washington Tuesday.
Stefani Reynolds
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AFP via Getty Images
Thousands of demonstrators in support of Israel gather on the National Mall in Washington Tuesday.

Americans are split over whether Israel's response has been too much or about right in response to Hamas' Oct. 7 attack — with a majority of Democrats now saying it's been too much, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

The results were driven by people of color and younger respondents, who were far more likely than others to say Israel has gone too far, and said their sympathies lie more with the Palestinians than Israelis.

There are also clear divides on whether to fund both the Israel and Ukraine wars or to fund neither, and whether the U.S. should take a leadership role in the world at all. Again, younger Americans and nonwhites — as well as majorities of independents and Republicans — say the U.S. should focus more on problems at home.

When it comes to Congress and its sprint to fund the government by Friday, the survey found that new House Speaker Mike Johnson is largely unknown, but respondents said he should compromise with Democrats. Republicans, however, are split on whether that should be the case.

Big majorities said it's not appropriate to use the threat of a shutdown as leverage during budget negotiations. Republicans, though, were more than twice as likely than Democrats to say use it. If the government does shut down, Republicans are more likely to get the blame, the poll found.

Split over Israel's response

Demonstrators march during a rally in support of Palestinians in New York Nov. 7, called for an end to Israel's assault on Gaza in its effort to eradicate the terrorist group Hamas after its attack.
Kena Betancur / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Demonstrators march during a Nov. 7 rally in New York in support of Palestinians, calling for an end to Israel's assault on Gaza in its effort to eradicate the terrorist group Hamas after its attack.

Israel has responded to Hamas' attack with as massive show of force that has killed more than 11,000 people, according to Palestinian officials, the vast majority of them civilians.

The poll found Americans divided over Israel's military actions. Thirty-eight percent said the Israeli response has been too much, while an equal number said it's been "about right."

The number of people who said the response has gone too far is up 12 points from a month ago.

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A majority of Democrats now say the response has been too much.

  • 56% of Democrats said it's been too much, up a whopping 21 points from last month.
  • Meanwhile, a majority of Republicans (52%) said the response has been about right, up 8 points from last month. That's largely because many Republicans moved from believing the response had been "too little" in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack to now considering it "about right."


There are big racial and generational divides.

  • Nonwhites were 15 points more likely to say the response has been too much (48% vs. 33% for whites).
  • People under 45 were also 17 points more likely than those over 45 to say it's been too much.


"Too much" aligns with pro-Biden groups.

  • Democratic men (59%), Biden voters (59%) and people who live in big cities (53%) were most likely to say the response has been too much.


"About right" lines up with pro-Trump groups.

  • Republican men (53%) and women (52%), as well as Republicans generally (52%), Trump voters (51%) and white evangelical Christians (51%) were the most likely to say the response has been about right.

Americans' sympathies overall lie with Israel in this conflict, but Democrats are split

By a 61%-30% margin, respondents said their sympathies lie more with Israelis than Palestinians, but that's driven by Republicans (79%) and independents (67%), who overwhelmingly support Israel.

Democrats are split, 45%-45%.

Again, there are big racial and generational divides.

  • Those over 45 (72%) are 25 points more likely to say their sympathies lie with Israel than those under 45 (47%).
  • Half (50%) of Gen Z/Millennials said they sympathize more with the Palestinians.
  • Whites (67%) are 16 points more likely than nonwhites (51%) to side with Israel.

There is great concern over the war leading to hate crimes in the U.S.

  • 82% said so, and that went across party lines. Of course, there's reason for concern for both those who sympathize with Israelis and Palestinians, as threats against Jewish people and Muslims have spikedsince the start of the war.

There's a divide over whether to fund both Israel's and Ukraine's wars — or neither

Some 36% said they don't want to authorize funding for either war, fueled by independents (49%) and Republicans (40%).

Independent women were the most likely to say fund neither war (58%), 17 points higher than men who identified as politically independent.

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About an equal share — 35% — said they wanted to fund both wars, another 14% only want to provide funding to Israel and 12% only to Ukraine.

There was a big age and racial gap here, too.

  • 48% of those younger than 45 said don't fund either war, 21 points higher than those 45 or older.
  • Whites were 13 points more likely to say fund both (40% white, 27% nonwhite); 44% of nonwhites said don't fund either.


Older voters and college-educated women were most likely to say fund both.

  • Members of the Silent/Greatest generation, those 78 years old or older were the most likely to say fund both (56%); followed by white, college-educated women (50%) and Democratic women (50%).

All of this tracks with how people feel about America's role in the world

There were big splits over whether United States should continue to play a leadership role in the world. The divides were again most acute by party, race and age.

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  • 66% of Democrats said the U.S. should maintain its leadership role.
  • But 56% of independents and 51% of Republicans said it should focus more on its own problems and play less of a leadership role. That's a huge shift from the hawkishness of the not-so-distant GOP past.
  • On race and age, 57% of nonwhites and 59% of those under 45 said they think the U.S. should turn inward, compared to 55% of whites and 59% of those over 45 who think the opposite.

Lack of confidence in Biden is clear

President Biden's approval rating continues to be low, as a majority of Americans also disapprove of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.
Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden's approval rating continues to be low, as a majority of Americans also disapprove of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

When it comes to the Israel-Hamas war, 55% said they disapprove of Biden's handling of it, 3 points worse than last month.

  • Party problems: Biden has just a 60% approval for his handling of the war among Democrats, down 17 points from last month.


Overall, Biden's job approval rating is languishing at just 42%.

  • And it's a dismal 33% with independents and 39% with those under 45.


That cynicism extends beyond Biden, though.

  • 7 in 10 (69%) say the political system can work fine — it's the members of Congress who are the problem.
  • That's up 16 points from 2015.


Democrats will feel good about the fact that people think they're more unified than Republicans by a 60%-27% margin.

Shutdown politics: people say they want compromise

House Speaker Mike Johnson remains largely unknown to large swaths of Americans, as he tries to maneuver legislation through that will keep the government open.
Stefani Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
House Speaker Mike Johnson remains largely unknown to large swaths of Americans, as he tries to maneuver legislation through that will keep the government open.

Newly minted Speaker Mike Johnson is still not well-known — 46% say they don't know who he is or are unsure what to think.

  • He has a 23%-31% favorable-unfavorable rating.


But by a huge margin — 67% to 27% — respondents said they think it's more important for Johnson to compromise rather than stand on principle even if it means gridlock.

  • Republicans, though, are split on that.


Three-quarters say it's not acceptable to threaten a shutdown to achieve their goals in a budget negotiation by a 75%-23% margin.

  • But the 23% who said it is acceptable is 9 points higher than in 2015.
  • Republicans are more than twice as likely to say it is acceptable (37% versus 18% for Democrats).


If the government shuts down, Republicans would get more of the blame.

  • 49% said they'd blame Republicans versus 43% who said they would blame President Biden and Democrats.


Parties share responsibility for the national debt, respondents say.

  • 40% said they blame both parties for the more than $30 trillion debt; 31% said they blame Democrats, 24% said Republicans.
  • Nearly 4-in-10 Democrats and 3-in-10 Republicans place the blame on both parties.


Methodology: The survey of 1,429 adults was conducted Nov. 6-9 by the Marist Poll by phone, both cell phones and landlines using live interviewers, by text or online in both English and Spanish. The margin of error is + or - 3.4 percentage points, meaning results could be about 3 points lower or higher.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.