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Posted by on Mar 11, 2015 in Iran, Israel | 4 comments

Gallup: Americans’ Views of Netanyahu Less Positive After Congress Speech — with Big Loss Among Democrats

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress that was set up by Republican Speaker of the House without running it by the White House in advance, and slated afterward despite strong White House objections did the Israeli P.M. no favors in his polling numbers among Americans: a new Gallup Poll found American’s now view him less positively — mostly because he has clearly irked a good chunk of Democrats.

He basically picked up no new support. GOP views of him remained the same, but many Democrats have sourced on him:

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s much-publicized and controversial address to Congress, Americans’ opinions of him have worsened. His favorable rating is down seven percentage points, to 38%, while his unfavorable rating has increased five points, to 29%. These changes are largely confined to Democrats; Republicans’ views are essentially stable.

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The poll shows precisely how much Netanyahu has damaged himself:

The current rating, based on a March 5-8 poll, came just days after Netanyahu’s March 3 address to Congress. Netanyahu’s 45% pre-visit rating ranked among the highest Gallup has measured for him.

So this isn’t exactly a case of he came, he saw he conquered. But more case of he came, he saw and he was perceived as injecting himself into America’s 24/7 partisan wars in a way that showed he was clearly using and being used by one political party against another.

And, also clearly, the poll shows that the resulting speech wasn’t seen as transcending America’s partisan wars but becoming enmeshed in them. Gallup again, using a more diplomatic description of what occurred:

The address was controversial because House Speaker John Boehner did not inform President Barack Obama about his plans to invite Netanyahu to speak before Congress [TMV note: in a later interview Boehner said he did not want the White House to know it was in the works]. Critics of the invitation thought Obama should at least have been notified given the president’s predominant role in conducting U.S. foreign policy. Also, Netanyahu planned to use his speech to express his opposition to agreements designed to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities at a time when the U.S., Iran and other nations are actively negotiating such an agreement. Obama did not personally meet with Netanyahu during his U.S. visit.

The March 3 visit appears to have soured Americans’ — specifically Democrats’ — views of Netanyahu, though he remains more positively (38%) than negatively (29%) rated overall. Thirty-three percent of Americans do not have an opinion of Netanyahu, essentially unchanged from before the visit.

Since February, Democrats have shifted from a 32% favorable/32% unfavorable opinion of Netanyahu to 17% favorable/46% unfavorable. The majority of Republicans, 62%, view the Israeli prime minister favorably.

Meanwhile, the poll showed that the images of President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have remained stable.

Gallup’s analysis:

The U.S. and Israel are longtime allies, and this is reflected in Americans’ generally positive views of Israel. Those positive feelings have extended to Netanyahu, who typically has been rated more favorably than unfavorably by Americans during his time as prime minister.

However, his recent visit caused him to lose some of that goodwill among the American public, chiefly among Democrats. Democrats are likely taking their cues about the appropriateness of Netanyahu’s address and his message on Iran from President Obama, who disagreed both with Netanyahu’s addressing Congress and his arguments against a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Israeli voters head to the polls next week to elect a new government and will determine whether Netanyahu and his Likud party will remain in power. Depending on the results of those elections, Netanyahu’s recent visit may be one more event that contributes to increasing U.S.-Israeli tensions under the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, or may be relegated to a small footnote in the history of U.S.-Israel relations if a new government is elected.

But it’s more than that.

Boehner later admitted he kept the White House in the dark about the visit on purpose. Netanyahu decided to come despite the fact that the White House made it clear it was unhappy about the timing. His supporters inside and out of Israel then painted him as a modern Winston Churchill, showing courage and insight as he defied the White House to get up in Congress and warn the U.S. governed by a naive Barack Chamberland Obama about the dangers of Iran.

But to many (including some GOPers) his speech represented the unprecedented injection of a foreign leader forcing himself on the American political stage and becoming an active lobbyist against an administration using Congress controlled by the opposition party as a high-profile backdrop with media coverage saturation. He was literally cheered on by Republicans who also seemed to hope they were putting Democrats in a tough spot with Jewish voters: would the the Democrats boycott the unprecedented manner in which the speech was set up and was held and risk the wrath of Jewish voters, or make sure they showed up to cheer due to fear of political fallout?

Democrats saw it as Netanyahu making his political preferences clear, allying himself with the GOP, and attempting to throw a monkey wrench into ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Iran.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Israeli media reports on this poll, amid increasing signs that many Israelis feel Netanyahu damaged relations with the United States. This poll won’t combat that perception — even if, in the end, the damage is not huge but a blip.

The poll is likely to be useful to Netanyahu’s political foes heading into next week’s vote.

The latest polls show Netanyahu losing ground in his re-election bid — but the vote is expected to be close and he can’t be counted out.

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