Polls released in the United States and Israel on March 11, 2015 tell the same story in two different countries. Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress has backfired on the Israeli Prime Minister in a spectacular way. In the United States, a Gallup Poll, conducted from March 5-8, finds that Bibi’s popularity has dropped considerably since his address to Congress.
In February, a Gallup survey found 45 percent of Americans held a favorable view of Netanyahu, compared to 24 percent who viewed him unfavorably. After his speech to Congress, Netanyahu’s favorable rating dropped to 38 percent. His unfavorable numbers climbed to 29 percent. Overall, that represents a 12 percentage point decline in his favorable to unfavorable spread.
U.S. Republicans still have an overwhelmingly favorable image of Netanyahu, even after his warmongering speech before Congress. In fact, with Republicans, Bibi’s popularity rose slightly from a (60-17) to a (62-16) margin. However, Democrats were turned off by the bellicose speech, and by Bibi’s cozy relationship with Congressional Republicans. With Democrats, Netanyahu’s popularity cratered from neutral (32-32) in February, to overwhelmingly negative in March (17-46).
If Bibi and Congressional Republicans had planned his speech to win over support from Americans, the propaganda ploy flopped badly. While he gained an incremental 3-point jump in popularity from Republicans, the trade-off was losing a net 29 points in his approval rating from Democrats.
As a re-election ploy back home, the gambit also appears to have failed. 35,000 Israeli citizens took to the streets of Tel Aviv, in an “Israel wants change” public protest against Netanyahu after his address to the U.S. Congress. While large public protests do not always signify that a political leader is in jeopardy, a series of recent polls find Netanyahu losing support as well.
Bibi’s right-leaning Likud Party, which was deadlocked with Isaac Herzog’s center-left Zionist Union Party in February polls, is now losing ground. An Israel Army radio poll projects Herzog’s slate to win 24 seats in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) to Likud’s 21 seats. A Channel 2 poll conducted on Tuesday put the totals as 25 to 21 in favor of the Zionist Union over Likud. The polls both show Bibi’s support declining from his February numbers.
Because the Knesset contains 120 total seats, Netanyahu’s Party could still cobble together a ruling coalition even if they garner fewer votes than the Zionist Union. However, Bibi’s dwindling popularity opens the possibility that he will be defeated at the polls, and possibly even ousted as Israel’s Prime Minister.
When Congressional Republicans bypassed the President of the United States to have Bibi speak before the Congress, they believed they had crafted an ingenious plan to weaken the President and to boost Netanyahu’s image in the U.S. and in Israel. Although Republicans gushed and fawned over the Israeli Prime Minister’s hawkish speech, the address didn’t go over well with most Americans, or with the people back home in Israel.
The foreign policy amateurs in the GOP, and their bellicose hero, Prime Minister Netanyahu, may have enjoyed their childish political theater. However, for Americans and Israelis who want their leaders to take security seriously, the Bibi traveling road show flopped. Netanyahu’s poll numbers in both the U.S. and Israel demonstrate how poorly the speech was received by the general public. There can be no question that it backfired. The only question that remains is if the backlash will be strong enough to remove Bibi from office altogether. For the sake of peace in the Middle East, let’s hope so.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.