PRINCETON, NJ -- President Obama has revved up his call for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks this week in advance of his major Middle East policy address on Thursday and meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. Gallup's annual update of Americans' outlook for the conflict finds 38% optimistic that Israel and the Arab nations will someday live in peace, but 60% are doubtful this will occur.
This year's result is based on Gallup's annual World Affairs survey, conducted Feb. 2-5, as the popular uprising in Egypt against former President Hosni Mubarak was in full swing. The 38% of Americans now optimistic about the chances for Mideast peace represents a minor rebound after the near-record-low outlook of 30% Gallup found in 2010. The absolute lowest, 27%, was recorded in July 2006 during the Israeli-Hezbollah war in southern Lebanon.
While Americans' optimism about Arab-Israeli peace has since remained low, it has shown longer-term variations, and has a history of rebounding -- particularly after the U.S.-brokered peace talks in 1999 and 2005.
All three party groups in the U.S. became a bit more optimistic about the chances for Arab-Israeli peace between February 2010 and February 2011. This includes a 10-point increase in the percentage of Democrats saying peace will come about (from 39% to 49%) and 8-point increases among Republicans and independents.
Since 2005, Democrats have tended to be the most optimistic on this question, but that has expanded in recent years, first with a decline in Republican optimism amid internal Palestinian violence between Fatah and Hamas factions, and then with independents' optimism declining after Obama took office in 2009.
Democrats' views about the conflict have been fairly steady since 2001, except for brief spurts of optimism in 2003 (after the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister) and in 2005 (coincident with a Palestinian-Israeli peace summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, that led to a cease-fire). These increases in optimism were seen among all three party groups.
Among major American subgroups, only young adults are currently more likely than Democrats to believe Mideast peace will happen. In fact, a slight majority of adults aged 18 to 29 (55%) now believe peace will eventually come about, compared with roughly a third of all older age groups.
Gallup polling on Mideast peace prospects since 1997 suggests Americans typically presume failure in the region unless real agreements at a peace table have recently been achieved, however temporal those have proved in the long term.
Today, the prospects for peace look as grim as ever, with President Obama's chief Mideast peace negotiator, George Mitchell, having recently tendered his resignation, and Palestinians and Israelis engaged in a new round of violent clashes. However, prior to these events, some Americans may have seen the youthful uprising in Egypt as emblematic of a broader demand for democratic reforms throughout the Middle East, and something that could result in a rapprochement with Israel. This could explain why optimism about the outlook for peace rose to 38% from 30% a year ago. Nevertheless, most Americans remain doubtful that peace is likely, and history suggests it will take much more than a verbal commitment to the peace process on the part of the U.S. president to change that.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 2-5, 2011, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.