PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans have a more positive (35%) than negative (23%) view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though four in 10 are not familiar enough with him to rate him. Views of Netanyahu are similar to what they were in Gallup's last measurement -- in May 1999, during the latter part of his first term as prime minister.
The July 9-12 poll was conducted in advance of Netanyahu's scheduled meeting with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this weekend in Israel as part of Romney's overseas trip. The Netanyahu-Romney meeting may take on added significance, given the controversy over remarks Romney made about London's preparation for the Olympics during his visit there, which could call into question his readiness for the international stage.
Netanyahu traveled to the U.S. earlier this year and met with President Obama. The relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has been tense at times due to their public disagreements about possible borders in an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.
Romney's visit to Israel may be designed to show he would be in closer agreement with Netanyahu and Israel as president than Obama is. Israel is a key U.S. ally and Americans generally have a positive view of the country. In Gallup's February World Affairs survey, seven in 10 had a favorable opinion of Israel and six in 10 said their sympathies lie more with the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict.
Republicans More Favorable to Israel, Netanyahu
The Romney-Netanyahu meeting may also help put the Republican candidate in a positive light among Republicans. That is because Republicans are especially positive toward Israel -- with 80% viewing the country favorably, compared with 71% of independents and 65% of Democrats, according to the February poll.
Republicans also show much greater affinity toward Netanyahu than Democrats do. The July poll finds 50% of Republicans viewing him favorably and 16% unfavorably, for a net favorable rating of +34. In contrast, Democrats' opinions of Netanyahu are more negative (31%) than positive (25%). Independents' opinions are slightly more positive than negative.
Partisan views of Netanyahu have shifted a bit since his previous tenure as prime minister. The May 1999 Gallup poll found Republicans less positive toward him than they are today, and Democrats more positive than now.
The shift could be due to a more tense relationship between Obama and Netanyahu than existed between Bill Clinton and Netanyahu.
Republicans were also more positive than Democrats toward Netanyahu in 1999, which could reflect the fact that he represents the more conservative Likud party in Israel.
Jewish Voters in U.S. Back Obama
While Republicans may look favorably on Romney's visit to Israel, another group with keen interest in U.S.-Israeli relations -- Jewish Americans -- solidly backs Obama in the election.
Gallup Daily tracking from June 1-July 26 finds Jewish registered voters favoring Obama over Romney by 68% to 25%. That is essentially the same as Gallup's prior update on Jewish voting preferences.
Although one goal of Romney's Israel visit could be to attract greater support among Jewish voters in the U.S., Jewish Americans have been a traditionally strong Democratic group, so they are unlikely to become much more supportive of Romney regardless of the outcome of the trip.
Americans have a more positive than negative view of Netanyahu, perhaps due to their favorable attitudes toward Israel more generally. Netanyahu's ratings in the U.S. are aided in large part by Republicans' positive opinions of him. Democrats tend to view him more negatively than positively, perhaps due to his ideological leanings but also his recent disagreements with President Obama.
Romney's visit to Israel may be designed to capitalize on those tensions, but it is not clear that it would work to his electoral advantage in the U.S., given the strong support Jewish voters have shown for Obama and the fact that Republicans, who are generally more pro-Israel, already overwhelmingly support Romney.
Rather, the visit's main effect may be to largely shape voters' views about Romney's ability to relate to foreign leaders and to conduct himself on an international stage. And there is room for Romney to improve in that respect, given that Americans currently view Obama as significantly better able than Romney to handle foreign affairs.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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 2011 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.