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Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland as well as a colleague here at Brookings, and Katayoun Kishi of the University of Maryland show that views of human rights, faith communities, and other belief systems and communities give Americans similar views, leading to clustering on seemingly disparate issues. Our polling indicates there is little difference across party lines on how Americans rank the threat of the Islamic State (also called ISIL or ISIS): 70% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 72% of Republicans rank ISIS as the biggest threat facing the United States in the Middle East—far above Iran and Israeli-Palestinian violence (the margin of error is /-3.5%).*** Polling indicates Americans are sometimes sharply divided on some issues of Middle East policy—seemingly across party lines—yet are remarkably united on other issues. At the same time, they differ markedly on their openness to using ground forces if the current air campaign fails: While 53% of Republicans would then support using ground forces, only 36% of Democrats and 31% of Independents would.We do find that there are opinion clusters that may not necessarily be causally related. This human rights prism helped cluster a set of attitudes on a number of issues: Those most concerned about human rights tend to oppose sending ground troops to fight ISIS (62%) and do not support fighting Asad in Syria (74%)—larger percentages than the rest of the population.
Again, all of these attitudes seem to have a tangential relationship to each other but are part of a worldview centered on human rights.
On the right, we also find a clustering of views that are not necessarily causally linked.
Here, too, the results were consistent across party lines.
Overall, 64% of respondents (71% of Republicans, compared to 60% each of Democrats and Independents) say that escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is likely to be used by ISIS to draw more support and to focus attention on confronting Israel and the United States.
These must of course be assessed in the context of changing events, but events alone cannot explain attitudes.
While we have provided some examples, it’s a tough business identifying appropriate clusters beyond political party.
Editor’s Note: Whether it is the war against the Islamic State or threats to Israel’s security, Americans have strong and often wildly different views about the Middle East and the U. role there, and we’re sure to see these expressed as election season gets into full gear.
Yet Americans agree on many things about the Middle East, and political party differences don’t give the full story.
Of course, the prisms through which the public sees policy issues aren’t purely intellectual or subjective, but almost always have a basis in a shared community as well as a media component that reinforces and broadens attitudes.
Nor are these prisms necessarily focused on calculating American interests: Those Americans who identify themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians tend to want the United States to lean toward Israel and say that the biggest driver of that position is not American interests but religious convictions—in marked contrast with rest of population, including Jewish Americans.