In July, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution that condemns the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and effectively tags the movement as antisemitic. The final vote was 398-17, with 209 Democrats voting for the legislation and just 16 opposing it. The vote also handed pro-Israel groups a convenient narrative: despite rumblings from progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, BDS remained a fringe movement with no hope of permeating mainstream political discourse.
New polling from Data for Progress suggests that no such overwhelming consensus exists among Democratic voters. According to a poll carried out for the group by YouGov Blue, 44% of Democratic voters support BDS, with just 15% opposing it. 53% agree that the movement is legitimate, with just 12% disagreeing. 48% of them are opposed to anti-BDS laws, with just 15% supporting them.
— Emma Saltzberg🔥 (@EmmaSaltzberg) November 22, 2019
If these statistics look incomplete, it’s for a reason. Over a third of the respondents said that they were unsure about their position towards BDS. Data for Progress’ accompanying report points out that such a proportion is “unusually high” even compared to other foreign policy issues that they’ve polled.
However, the number of voters who remain unaware of BDS might be going down. In May, a J Street poll found that almost 64% of the Democratic voters it surveyed had never even heard of BDS and just 4% of them said they had heard a “great deal” about it. That’s a much higher number than Data for Progress ended up with. The J Street poll was conducted before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barred Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel over their support for the movement, seemingly at the suggestion of the Trump administration. While Netanyahu’s move was condemned by figures across the political spectrum, it also put a spotlight on BDS and the urgent need to oppose the policies of Israel.
Summing up the findings in Jewish Currents, Data for Progress senior fellow and IfNotNow co-founder Emma Saltzberg writes, “While BDS has more opponents in the electorate than supporters, the fact that more than a third of voters decline to take a position on it suggests that voters, unlike the political establishment and mainstream Jewish institutions, have not ruled BDS out.”
While the average Democratic voter might be undecided or unaware of BDS, there are other recent polls that suggest their opinions on related issues could be shifting. A Data for Progress poll from September found that 64% of Democratic voters support cutting military aid to countries over human rights violations and that includes Israel. Saltzberg also broke down the data and published a report in Jewish Currents for that poll. “These results suggest that Democratic voters are not holding Israel to a different standard than they would hold any other recipient of US military aid dollars,” she concluded, “They also suggest that Democratic politicians who float the possibility of changes to the US–Israel aid relationship do so with the support of their party’s voters.”
An October poll from the centrist Center for American Progress ended up with even more staggering number: 71% of the Democratic voters they surveyed said that they support reducing military aid to Israel if the country annexes the West Bank or expands settlements.
You can read all the Data for Progress data and Saltzberg’s accompanying memo at the group’s website.