By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- A large majority of President Obama's supporters favor increasing US pressure on Israel, according to a new poll released today that shows a deep partisan divide on the issue and an increased willingness on the part of Democrats to support actions that have long been considered taboo in mainstream American politics.
According to the Zogby International survey, 71 percent of Obama backers believe that the United States should "get tough with Israel" to stop the expansion of settlements, compared to just 26 percent of those who supported Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Also, 80 percent of likely Obama voters were in total agreement with the phrase, "It's time for the United States to get tough with Israel," while just 16 percent of McCain supporters agreed.
Should the US 'Get Tough
The poll, commissioned by the Doha Debates, a Qatar-based foundation, also found that half of all Obama supporters believe US support for Israel weakens US security, while 67 percent of Obama voters supported talks with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, a percentage similar to the proportion of Israelis who support such talks.
The poll numbers come as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been reluctant to support a Palestinian state, met with Obama for the first time at the White House. Netanyahu stressed stopping Iran's nuclear program, while many in the Obama administration see the creation of a Palestinian state as a top priority, in part, because the plight of the Palestinians fuels extremism and increases support for Iran's anti-American message.
But the Zogby poll suggests that Netanyahu's views are a hard sell among Democrats. He is viewed "totally unfavorably" by 49 percent of Obama voters, while only 29 percent viewed him "totally favorably." Meanwhile, 82 percent of McCain voters viewed him as "totally favorably," while only 9 percent viewed him "totally unfavorably."
The poll questioned a representative sampling of 4,340 American adults early in April and suggests that the same demographic trends that swept Obama into office might eventually impact US policy towards one of its closest allies.
Young people, blacks, and Latinos, who turned out in droves for Obama, have radically different views about the Israel-Palestinian conflict than do evangelical Christians who have made up the Republican party's base over the past eight years.
"It's become a bellwether issue of the Republican party" similar to abortion and gun rights, said John Zogby, CEO of Zogby International. "This is not a new trend. It is an accentuation of a trend that has been there for 15 years."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.