New poll: 44% of Democrats say Israel is a ‘state with segregation similar to apartheid’

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  April 25, 2023

A new poll by the University of Maryland shows that 44% of Democrats believe Israel is a “state with segregation similar to apartheid,” and 41% of Democrats support the BDS movement.

A new University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll shows that support for Israel continues to decline among Democratic voters.

Between March 27th and April 5th 1,203 people were asked about their opinions on the country. “You may have been following recent developments in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza,” read the first question. “In your opinion which of the following is closer to describing the way Israel looks to you.”

The four available options were a “vibrant democracy,” “a flawed democracy,” “a state with restricted minority rights,” or “a state with segregation similar to apartheid.”

56% of respondents said they didn’t know, but among those who had an opinion, just 22% said Israel was a vibrant democracy, 31% said a flawed democracy, 16% said it was state with restricted minority rights, and 31% said it was a state with segregation similar to apartheid.

When split by political party, the poll reveals stark partisan separation on the issue. A 41% plurality of Republicans said Israel was “a vibrant democracy,” while only 20% called it “a state with segregation similar to apartheid.” A 44% plurality of Democrats said it was a state with segregation similar to apartheid, and 34% said it was a flawed democracy.

“This is remarkable because the use of the term “apartheid,” in the American mainstream discourse, while increasingly heard, is still highly uncommon and even taboo in many circles,” notes Brookings senior fellow Shibley Telhami, who conducted the poll with his colleague Stella Rouse.

The poll also indicates that (despite the vast demonization of the movement across U.S. political culture) Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) are supported by many Democratic voters. A plurality of those who expressed an opinion, 41%, said they supported the movement. Only 20% said they opposed it.

These findings line up with a number of recent polls showing declining support for Israel among Democrats. A March Gallup poll had 56% of Democrats viewing Israel favorably, down from 63% in 2022. 49% of polled Democrats said they sympathize with Palestinians, compared to 38% who said they sympathize with Israelis. It’s the first time that more Democrats have sympathized with Palestinians since Gallup began conducting the annual poll in 2001.

An April Pew poll showed that just one-in-ten liberal Democrats has a positive view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During an April 23 appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation Netanyahu denied that his administration was hurting Israel’s standing among Democrats and blamed the decline on the media demonizing Israel for killing Palestinians.

“First of all, it’s happening over time,” Netanyahu explained. “It happened over time. It’s not related to this or that administration in Israel because it happened, it continued under the previous government as well. I think there is a demonization of Israel in some of the reports — many of the reports that come out of here. And I think there is a portion of the American public that finds it hard to understand that once you – you enter the – the realm of nations, you have to act to defend yourself.”

“We constantly have to defend ourselves against terrorism that is aimed against our people and sometimes when that happens you have what’s called ‘collateral damage,’ which means civilian casualties that are unfortunate,” he continued. “They’re not deliberate and that often enables the vilification of Israel to take place.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss