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A generational divide on views of Israel … in both parties, according to new survey 

A person in a crowd holds an Israeli flag in one hand an a Palestinian flag in the other hand.
A new survey shows younger members of both the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States view Israel less favorably than their elders. Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

A new survey shows that younger Americans in both political parties view Israel less favorably than their elders, results that show dissent on the issue is not driven solely by partisanship. 

“It’s surprising that it’s in both parties,” says David Lazer, distinguished professor of political science and computer and information science at Northeastern University, and a lead on the project. “We know what’s happening in the Democratic Party, but the fact is we’re seeing that incipient change in the Republican Party, too.”

Israel has been the subject of increased attention since October 7, 2023, when the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israel, killing some 1,200 civilians and taking 253 hostages. Israel’s war of retaliation has displaced much of the Gazan population and killed 29,000 Gazans, according to the local health authorities, which do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

The Civic Health and Institutions Project: a 50 State Survey, involves researchers from Northeastern, Harvard University, Rutgers University and the University of Rochester. Succeeding the COVID States Project, the researchers periodically survey respondents from 50 states and the District of Columbia on attitudes and behaviors. 

In its 103rd and most recent survey, researchers asked 30,460 individuals ages 18 and older to rate their feelings toward Jews, Muslims, Israel and Palestine, using a “feeling thermometer” – a scale of 0 to 100 where 0 indicates feeling very unfavorable or cold, 50 indicates not particularly warm or cold, and 100 indicates feeling very favorable or warm. 

The survey was conducted from Dec. 21 to Jan. 29, and used the term Palestine, which is not an independent state. The Palestinian territories include Gaza and the West Bank.

Headshot of David Lazer.
David Lazer, Northeastern distinguished professor of political science and computer science, conducted the survey as part of the Civic Health and Institutions Project: a 50 State Survey. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Lazer and colleagues say the findings are particularly significant as the large sample size enables them to distinguish between subgroups. For instance, the survey includes 3,294 Americans between ages 18 and 24 — 1,101 of whom identified as Democrats and 676 Republicans. Furthermore, respondents were assigned one of four age groups: ages 18 to 24; ages 25 to 44; ages 45 to 64; and over age 65. In addition to partisan affiliation and age, subgroups included race, education level and religion.

Comparing the generational differences in the results yields interesting findings.

“I think one topline finding that resonates with prior survey findings and some prior research is that there are both partisan and generational differences in attitudes towards Israel and Palestine,” Lazer says.

“Younger people are much more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and less sympathetic to Israel, and we see Republicans are more sympathetic to Israel, less sympathetic to Palestinians,” Lazer continues. “But those two go together — meaning that younger Republicans are way less sympathetic to Israel than older Republicans.”

Indeed, the survey found that Democrats ages 18 to 24 on average rated Israel at 36/100, while Democrats ages 65 and over rated Israel 56/100, on average. Republicans ages 18 to 24 rated Israel on average at 49/100 while their counterparts over 65 rated Israel at an average of 72/100.

Interest in the Israel-Hamas war has corresponded with a documented rise in antisemitism; last fall, less than a month after the Hamas attacks, the Anti-Defamation League reported that incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault against Jewish people had increased by 388% over the same period last year.

Further relating to the generational divide, researchers found that, generally, as individuals’ opinions toward Jews were more favorable, so did their opinions toward Israel. 

“But this relationship is much weaker for younger Americans than it is for older Americans,” researchers report. “Ratings of Jews and Israel are correlated for Americans 25 and up, but this is not the case for Americans between 18 and 24, with the correlation between the two thermometer scores being just 0.11.” 

This generational divide did not occur when correlating opinions toward Muslims and Palestine. 

The Council on American-Islamic relations also reported a 182% jump in incidents of Islamophobia last fall, compared to the previous year.

“The correlations between thermometer ratings of Muslims and Palestine, however, remain moderately correlated at nearly identical levels for each of the four age groups,” the researchers report.

There was also a strong and positive relationship between the warmth of feelings that respondents held toward Jews and held toward Muslims. 

“It’s not an either/or thing,” Lazer explains. “If you feel warmly towards Jews you feel positively towards Muslims. Also, if you feel negatively towards Jews you also feel negatively towards Muslims.”

A partisan divide, however, exists in attitudes toward Muslims.

Democrats rated their attitudes toward Muslims at an average of 66/100. Republicans rated their attitudes toward Muslims at an average of 48/100. In comparison, Democrats rated their feelings toward Jews at an average of 70/100. This was virtually the same as Republicans, who rated their feelings toward Jews at an average of  68/100.

Partisan differences also emerged for ratings of Israel and Palestine. Republicans were much more likely to rate Israel favorably, assigning it an average of 61/100, while Democrats assigned Israel an average of 47/100. Democrats rated Palestine an average of 47/100; that was higher than Republicans, who rated it an average of 30/100.

Additional findings include:

Lazer says the survey is one worth repeating.

“A snapshot of public opinion can’t tell you what the future holds,” Lazer notes. “In the short run, how does public opinion change with facts on the ground in Gaza? Over the longer term, how persistent are these generational differences? Do we see a shift in public opinion over the next generation as the population turns over? This will require continued monitoring of opinion.”