The Hill Poll: Most voters say Arab unrest bodes ill for the US

Sixty-one percent of likely voters believe the democratic uprisings in the Arab world that President Obama embraced in a major speech Thursday will make things more difficult for the United States, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.

Just 20 percent of respondents said the turmoil would benefit the United States, while more than 3 in 5 said the unrest would make things more difficult. The remaining 19 percent were unsure.

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The national survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted on the evening of May 19, hours after Obama made his major foreign policy address at the State Department and pledged that, “It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.”

The pessimistic view of the impact of the new Arab world upon the United States underscores the challenges Obama faces in navigating the nation’s response to Mideast unrest and its role in the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Other polls have shown mixed voter support for the American missions in Libya and Afghanistan.

The Hill poll found that a plurality of voters, 42 percent, said the United States should embrace regimes that support democracy, even if the outcome is unsure. Thirty-five percent said it should prioritize its national interests and embrace undemocratic regimes that back American policy.

Obama has come under criticism from some corners for ordering military intervention to prevent violent repression in Libya while taking a less muscular approach to government repression in Bahrain and other Arab countries.

On the thorny divide between Israelis and Palestinians, voters were split on U.S. policy toward Israel. Twenty-seven percent said the United States is too supportive of the Jewish state, while 31 percent said U.S. policy is not supportive enough. Another 31 percent said the level of support is “about right.”

Half of the voters polled said Obama should not be more involved in brokering a peace deal while 24 percent said he should, and 26 percent were not sure.

The president acknowledged in his speech last week that the administration’s efforts to forge a lasting accord between Israel and the Palestinians had fallen short. Obama’s envoy to the region, former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine), resigned earlier this month.

Obama declined to offer a detailed U.S. proposal for a peace agreement, but he angered Israelis and GOP leaders by stating publicly that negotiations for a two-state solution should be based on Israel’s 1967 borders.

In a joint appearance at the White House on Friday — after The Hill poll was conducted — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Obama those boundaries were “indefensible.”

Nearly half of voters, 47 percent, said Obama has improved the U.S. standing in the world, while 38 percent said he has damaged it. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in January 2010, by comparison, found that 53 percent of American voters believed Obama had improved America’s global image, while 43 percent said he had caused it to decline.

A Pew Research study of attitudes in more than 20 nations, released in July 2009 when the president’s domestic popularity was higher, found that Obama had improved the U.S. image abroad.

The Hill’s national survey has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Among the respondents, 34 percent were Republicans, 35 percent were Democrats and 31 percent reported themselves as “other.”