AJC poll shows Georgia Democratic rift over Israel

Most Georgians worry the conflict between Israel and Hamas will grow into a wider war

The deadly terrorist attack by Hamas against Israel and the escalating war in the Gaza Strip have sharpened a rift among Democrats in Georgia that could help shape U.S. foreign policy and the 2024 race for the White House.

A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed that two-thirds of Georgians say supporting Israel is in the national interest. But the roughly one-quarter of voters who disagree reflects deep divisions that have surfaced amid the growing conflict.

Nearly 40% of Democrats say supporting Israel shouldn’t be a staple of U.S. foreign policy, compared with only 10% of Republicans and one-third of independents who hold that view.

The divide is more distinct among younger, more diverse and poorer voters. About half of voters under 30 and a slim majority of those who make less than $25,000 say supporting Israel is not in the national interest.

And 41% of Black voters — long the base of Democratic support in Georgia — also say they believe backing Israel isn’t in the national interest. The divide is threatening to fray the coalition that fueled Biden’s narrow 2020 victory over Donald Trump.

“I definitely feel for the Israelis, but what’s been happening since has been tough,” said Carol Page, a Duluth resident who hasn’t decided who she’s backing in 2024. She said she has growing concerns about Israel’s retaliatory strikes after Hamas militants killed 1,400 Israelis in an Oct. 7 sneak attack. The Hamas-run health ministry reports more than 9,700 have been killed in Israeli attacks.

“The U.S. should still support Israel, but we need to find a middle ground,” she said. “A lot of innocent people are getting hurt and killed, and that’s not good for either side.”

Underpinning the debate over U.S. foreign policy are stark worries about a broader escalation that could more directly involve Iran, a sworn enemy of Israel.

Some 90% of Georgians worry the conflict could erupt into a wider war. A majority of Georgians are “very concerned” about that possibility, with most Republicans and half of Democrats sharing that sentiment.

The president is facing growing backlash from liberal Democrats over his steadfast support of Israel in the growing conflict, sharpening a rift within his party as Israel expands its ground invasion of Gaza, the home to 2.3 million people.

Moderate Democrats and Republicans generally praise Biden’s backing of Israel, while a coalition of younger and more liberal Democrats have demanded an immediate cease-fire or de-escalation of violence in Gaza.

Debra Jeter, a DeKalb County Democrat, exemplifies the trend. She said she understands why Israel wants to defend itself, but she said the country has “done some dirt” to the Palestinians.

“I appreciate that he wants to help the Israelis,” Jeter said. “But the Israelis, their hands are dirty.”

Fayette County resident Dwight Hooper, who is backing Biden’s reelection bid, aligns more with the president and other moderate Democrats when it comes to Israeli policy.

“I’d be more inclined to support Israel, only because we have to be loyal to our friends. That’s what we have done historically. When something like this happens,” he said of the Hamas attacks, “I don’t know if that’s the time to explore what deficiencies our friends have.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia is among the Democrats — including Biden — who have called for a “humanitarian pause” to send relief into Gaza, while U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish senator in Georgia history, said he worries about a growing “acute humanitarian crisis.”

Some far-left Democrats, meanwhile, have warned Biden will be punished at the ballot box next year for refusing to break with Israel or take more steps to help Gaza.

Even so, a majority of Democrats and liberal voters back Israel as a foreign policy imperative, though support is highest among Republicans and voters who are 65 and older. Angela Stepp, a GOP voter in Thomaston, didn’t hesitate when she was asked about the nation’s Middle East policy.

“Of course. We have to support Israel,” she said. “That’s the Holy Land — it goes without saying.”

Ditto for Dawn Nguyen, a DeKalb County resident who owns a trucking firm.

“I’m a Baptist and I support defending God’s country. They got attacked,” Nguyen said. “They didn’t ask for this war. They need to defend themselves, and the other side isn’t going to stop.”

Staff writer David Wickert contributed to this article.

AJC poll

The poll was conducted Oct. 26-Nov. 3 for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It questioned 1,002 likely voters in the general election and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Which comes closer to your line of thinking: supporting Israel is in the national interest of the United States or supporting Israel is not in the national interest of the United States?

In the national interest — 67%

Not in the national interest — 23%

Don’t know — 10%

How concerned are you that the war between Israel and Hamas will escalate into a wider war in the Middle East?

Very concerned — 53%

Somewhat concerned — 36%

Not so concerned — 6%

Not at all concerned — 4%

Don’t know — 2%

Poll information: The survey was administered by the School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center at the University of Georgia. The AJC-SPIA Poll was conducted Oct. 26-Nov. 3 and included a total of 1,002 likely voters in the general election in Georgia. The calculated margin of error for the total sample is +/-3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Some totals may not equal 100% because of rounding.

About the Author