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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Has Little Effect on US Public Opinion of Israel



Authors: Kate Hart, Aurora Speltz, Kerby Gilstrap, Timothy S. Rich*

The United States was the first country to formally recognize the state of Israel in 1948 and has been one of its strongest allies, both politically and militarily. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. has vetoed at least 53 UN resolutions that condemned Israel. The U.S. has also provided considerable military assistance. To put this in perspective, according to the arms transfer data from SIPRI, Israel ranks fifth among all recipients of US military funding since 1950, behind only Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Germany.

In 2016, the U.S. and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that pledged a total of $38 billion USD to Israel from 2019 to 2028. This was an increase from the previous MOU that was signed in 2007 and pledged $30 billion USD. The current MOU is distributed yearly as $3.3 billion in foreign military financing and $500 million in missile defense funding. U.S. missile defense funding to Israel totals $1.3 billion USD since 2011 and has largely covered Israel’s production of their Iron Dome system, which was one of the key factors in preventing Israeli casualties both in the 2014 and 2021 wars with Gaza.

Such ties also extend to the American public. While official ties certainly suggest a strong relationship, Gallup polls show that over the course of the last 20 years, the lowest overall ranking of Israel by the public was recorded in 2002 and still had 58% of respondents ranking their impression of Israel as “very” or “mostly positive;” that number hit its peak in early 2021 with 75% of respondents ranking their impression as positive (this data was collected prior to the May 2021 conflict). While the American public’s general view of Israel has remained positive over the years, a division can be seen along party lines with Republicans showing stronger support for Israel and Democrats support divided. Recent trends suggest a decline in support for Israel (and an increase in support for the Palestinian Authority) among younger adults and progressive Democrats.

 May 2021 saw a new round of violence in the ongoing conflict. In April, tensions rose due to the impending decision of the Israeli courts about the eviction of six families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Raids took place on the Al-Aqsa mosque by the Israeli police on the 7th and 10th of May, where they used tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. Decades of tensions, feelings of discrimination, and perceived injustices boiled over into violence. The first rocket was fired from Gaza by Hamas around 6 pm on May 10th. After 11 days of fighting, during which the Israeli military said it fired 1,500 rockets and Hamas fired 4,300, a ceasefire was called on May 21st. According to Gaza’s health ministry, at least 243 people were killed, 100 of whom were women and children, while Israel’s health ministry says that 12 people were killed, including two children. Despite a clash at the Al-Aqsa mosque later on May 21st, the ceasefire held. The May conflict is being compared by many to the 2014 conflict in Gaza, which lasted from July 8th to August 26th. Hamas used more rockets in the 2021 conflict than in the significantly longer 2014 conflict, though both sides experienced much higher casualties in 2014, with Israeli losses totaling 73, six of whom were civilians, and Palestinian losses totaling 2,251, 1,462 of whom were civilians.

We wanted to see how views of Israel had changed, if at all, due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this year. We conducted an original web survey of 625 American citizens on June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. After a series of demographic and attitudinal questions, we asked “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Overall, respondents scored Israel on average 6.19, with Republicans evaluating higher on average than Democrats (6.79 vs. 5.98). 

To test whether public support for aid to Israel shifts when mentioned in the context of recent conflicts, we randomly assigned respondents to one of three prompts

The prompts were:

Version 1: The U.S. provided Israel with $3.8 billion in foreign aid in 2020. Should future aid to Israel be decreased, stay about the same, or increase?

Version 2: The U.S. provided Israel with $3.8 billion in foreign aid in 2020. In light of recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should future aid to Israel be decreased, stay about the same, or increase?

Version 3: The U.S. provided Israel with $3.8 billion in foreign aid in 2020. In light of recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has included disproportionate Palestinian casualties, should future aid to Israel be decreased, stay about the same, or increase?

Our data suggests that the American public support for aid to Israel is not systematically affected by recent events or framings as we see little variation across the versions of the survey question received. At best we see small partisan shifts. Democrats were more supportive of decreasing aid if they had received Version 2 priming to consider recent conflict, but those receiving Version 3 were more likely towards staying the same. In contrast, Republican views differ marginally between Versions 1 and 2, with support for aid increasing in Version 3.

Regression analysis further suggests little difference across the three versions once accounting for partisanship and other demographic factors (age, gender, income, education), none of which were statistically significant. Of particular surprise, initial feelings on the 10-point scale also were not statistically significant.

Admittedly most respondents are unlikely to have much knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor did we directly ask about knowledge of recent conflicts or historical conflicts. However, the results suggest that recent actions are unlikely to generate calls for tying aid to Israel to peaceful resolutions of recent conflicts.

Based on the evidence from this survey and actions from the Biden administration thus far, we do not anticipate significant shifts in US policy towards Israel. Our data shows that Israeli actions, even when framed within the context of the recent Palestinian conflict, do not have significant impacts on future aid to Israel. This is despite both a Gallup Poll from March 2021 finding that the majority of Democrats want the U.S. to pressure Israel to compromise more with the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, progressive Democrats in Congress increasingly have called for greater Israeli accountability. As of now the Biden administration has not used U.S. funding as leverage to change Israeli policies, but absent of a major shift in public opinion, such efforts are unlikely to be motivated by public pressure.

Kate Hart is a Western Kentucky University honors alumna who graduated with degrees in International Affairs and Asian Religions and Cultures. She is currently pursuing her MA in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Aurora Speltz is an honors undergraduate researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Arabic, International Affairs, and Spanish.

Kerby Gilstrap is an honors undergraduate student at Western Kentucky University. She is majoring in International Affairs, Arabic, and Sustainable Development.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL).

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

Kate Hart is a Western Kentucky University honors alumna who graduated with degrees in International Affairs and Asian Religions and Cultures. She is currently pursuing her MA in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn



Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer



When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them



Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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