Survey Finds Widening Partisan Divide on Israel and Iran

Posted September 15, 2015 at 11:38am

Democrats and Republicans are sharply at odds on an array of foreign policy issues including Israel’s role in the Middle East and the Iran nuclear deal, according to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll released Tuesday.

Only 40 percent of self-identified Democrats in the newly released survey believe Israel has a positive influence on the Middle East compared to 61 percent of self-identified Republicans. Support for an “independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” also has risen among Democrats.

“While supporters of both parties were once divided internally on this issue, now a majority of Democrats (61 percent) support an independent Palestinian state while 60 percent of Republicans are opposed,” according to the poll’s authors.

Majorities from both parties are skeptical that the recently negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran will prevent the country from acquiring an atomic weapon. However, Republicans and Democrats are divided on what the U.S. response should be if Tehran cheats on the deal with 53 percent of GOP respondents supporting deploying U.S. military forces to attack Iranian nuclear facilities compared to only 44 percent of Democrats. Even fewer Independents (37 percent) than Democrats supported U.S. armed strikes on Iran.

“The intense debate over the Iran nuclear agreement has shown that Americans continue to care deeply about foreign affairs but are divided over whether military or diplomatic tools are the best source of U.S. power and influence,” Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council, a nonpartisan organization, said in a statement.

Dina Smeltz, senior fellow for public opinion and foreign policy at the council, said the survey showed a widening partisan divide when it comes to foreign affairs. “The data show historic differences on issues that even a decade ago were more bipartisan — such as a 30 point difference between Democrats and Republicans on whether controlling or reducing illegal immigration should be a priority,” she said in provided comments. “In 2002, that difference was only five points, just one example of an issue on which we’ve seen increasing polarization over the years.”

Compared to the two main political parties, self-identified Independents were more likely to support a U.S. foreign policy that trends isolationist. The survey found that Independents “align more closely with Republicans in doubting the effectiveness of new alliances, economic aid and free-trade agreements. Yet they more closely resemble Democrats when it comes to limiting the use of hard power — again, reflecting their disinclination to involve the United States in overseas conflicts.”

In the last year, concern about Islamic fundamentalism has risen sharply among all three groups — Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The only other time when Americans were more afraid of a large-scale terrorist strike was in 2002, shortly after 9/11.

The survey of 2,034 was conducted from May 28 to June 17 by the nonpartisan organization founded in 1922. The survey has a margin of error of 2.2 to 3.1 percent, depending on the question.