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Americans Not Pressing for Bigger Role in Gaza Conflict

Americans Not Pressing for Bigger Role in Gaza Conflict

PRINCETON, NJ -- Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip after recent Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel has put international pressure on the United States to advocate an immediate cease-fire; but only 33% of Americans, according to a Jan. 6-7 Gallup Poll, say the Bush administration should be doing more to end the conflict than it already is doing.


In polling conducted the first two days after Israeli mortar fire killed more than 40 Palestinians sheltered in a United Nations-run school, Americans are more likely to believe the Bush administration should expand its role in ending the Gaza conflict than pull back, 33% vs. 22%. However nearly a third -- 30% -- say the administration is already doing the right amount to resolve it. Thus, a combined 52% do not push for more involvement.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been leading the administration's response to the Gaza crisis by trying to promote the idea of a cease-fire that is "durable, sustainable, and indefinite." That differs from the "immediate" cease-fire that many other world leaders have called for, and it reflects the administration's support for Israel's goal of neutralizing Hamas' ability to conduct further attacks on Israel. As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said recently, his objective is that "quiet will reign supreme" in southern Israel.

Half of self-described "liberals" (50%) in the latest survey want the Bush administration to do more to resolve the conflict. That compares with only 32% of "moderates" and 24% of "conservatives."

Previous Gallup polling has shown liberals to be much less sympathetic than conservatives to the Israelis in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Thus, it is likely that liberals favor an immediate cessation of the Gaza hostilities, even if that doesn't serve Israel's security interests.


Similarly, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to favor greater action by the Bush administration to resolve the conflict.


Public opinion is less slanted in favor of stepping up U.S. efforts to resolve the Gaza conflict when the same question is asked in terms of what the United States should do, rather than what the Bush administration should do.

According to the split-sample experiment, in which survey respondents were randomly assigned to the two different forms of the question, 29% of Americans believe the United States should do more to resolve the Gaza conflict, versus 25% saying it should do less; 33% say it is doing the right amount. This contrasts with the 11 percentage-point gap in views about the Bush administration, with 33% saying it should do more and only 22% saying it should do less.

This difference is largely because Democrats and independents are significantly more likely to favor greater action when the question is framed in terms of the Bush administration rather than the country, generally.


Obama Should Stay on the Sidelines

Barack Obama has taken some political heat from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute for not speaking out on the conflict -- both from pro-Arab groups that want him to condemn the killing of civilians by Israel, and from pro-Israel groups that want him to defend Israel's right to strike back at Hamas. Obama has demurred, saying it would not be appropriate for him, as president-elect, to inject his views on such a critical international matter.

Americans largely agree with Obama. Only 19% say he should announce a firm position on the conflict now, while 75% say he should wait until he takes office.


The views of Democrats and Republicans are virtually identical on this question, with only 19% of Democrats and 18% of Republicans saying Obama should announce his position now. The vast majority of both groups (as well as of political independents) say he should wait.


Bottom Line

Public opinion about U.S. involvement in resolving the Gaza conflict is reminiscent of how Americans reacted to the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. A Gallup Poll conducted in July 2006 found only a third of Americans saying the United States should press for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, 20% saying it should wait before calling for a cease-fire, and 43% saying it should not get involved at any point.

Contemporaneous polling showed Americans weren't necessarily strongly pro-Israel in the matter -- only half approved of Israel's military actions in Lebanon, while 38% disapproved. Americans simply did not favor heavy U.S. involvement in the region. Given several options for the role the United States should play in bringing about peace between Israel and Hezbollah, only 14% of Americans said the United States should take the leading role. More than half (56%) said the United States should be involved but that the United Nations should take the leading role, and another 29% said the United States should not be involved at all.

That sentiment may very well apply to how Americans perceive the Gaza conflict today. While the public may believe the United States should have a place at the diplomatic table, it may not want to see the United States leading the Palestinian-Israeli peace effort, or expending time and other resources on it that may be needed closer to home.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,049 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 6-7, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the 1,077 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 972 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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