John McLaughlin, a nationally recognized pollster, has worked for the Steve Forbes presidential campaign, eight U.S Senators, twenty current members of Congress, and hundreds of other successful candidates. His corporate clients include CBS News Radio and the Media Research Center.
A national opinion survey finds that a strong majority of American voters have very firm and cynical views on three matters: the commitment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to fight terrorism, its efforts to prosecute terrorists, and sending U.S. aid to the Palestinians.
This national survey was sponsored by the Middle East Quarterly and conducted by our firm to elicit actual voter turnout across the United States in the 1998 congressional elections. The survey was conducted via telephone on June 23-26, 1997, and it has an accuracy of plus or minus 3.1 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. It asked questions of 1,000 adult Americans who are registered to vote and say that they are likely to vote in next year's Congressional elections, making it a very good indicator of true voter opinion.1
1: ARAFAT KEPT PROMISES?
Since 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Arabs have signed several agreements, known as the Oslo Accords. In these agreements, Yasir Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization promised many things, including fighting terror and preventing violence. Would you say that Yasir Arafat has kept his promises?
Every important voter group thinks the PLO and Yasir Arafat have broken their promise to stop terrorism. Six out of ten American voters say this; in contrast, only one in six voters says the PLO has kept its word. This strong voter sentiment is very broad-based and runs across every important regional, ideological, political and demographic segment in the poll.
Such views clearly drive American voter opinion against giving any taxpayer assistance to the Palestinian Authority, for a direct connection exists between the perception of the PLO's attitude towards terrorism and support for financial aid. Two-thirds of those voters who are opposed to giving $100 million in aid to Arafat's Palestinians believe the PLO broke its word. The majority of those few voters who would give American funding to the Palestinians think that they have tried to stop terrorism. If there is more Palestinian terrorism, stopping American aid to the Palestinian Authority could be a very important issue in next year's Congressional elections.
2: SHOULD THE U.S. PROSECUTE TERRORISTS?
Several Palestinian Arabs who live in territories controlled by Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are suspected in the murders of American citizens. The Palestinian Authority has still not prosecuted the suspects for those murders. Would you say it is important that the American government demands the transfer of those suspects to stand trial in the United States?
In numbers very similar to those replying to the first question, two out of three voters believe that it is important for the Clinton administration to demand the extradition of those terrorists suspected of murdering American citizens. And again this strong voter sentiment is very broad-based and runs across every key group-including even those voters who think Arafat and the PLO have kept their word to fight terrorism. If the United States were to ask for the extradition and trial of these murder suspects, and the Palestinian Authority refused, it would undermine the credibility of the Palestinian Authority among all voters, even among those one in six voters who now believe they are fighting terrorism.
3: SHOULD THE U.S. CONTINUE AMERICAN AID?
Should the U.S. Government continue to give $100 million a year in American taxpayers' money to Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority?
Better than four out of five voters would not continue the $100 million a year American taxpayers give to the Palestinians. If voter opinion was critical of the Palestinians' lack of effort to stop terrorism and violence, it is nearly unanimous against American foreign aid to Arafat's Palestinians. Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority appears not to be at the top of Americans' favorite charities. With the size of public opinion against this expenditure and the heated public debate over the federal government's budget, if a Congressional candidate were to be attacked for voting for aid to the Palestinian Authority, this would become a major election year liability. The only missing ingredient is a candidate to start a national debate on this issue.
Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have a long way to go to repair these negative opinions among American voters. Clearly the link to terrorism has undermined the Palestinians' credibility. The only way for the Palestinians to reverse this skepticism is to undertake a serious and prolonged campaign to end Middle East violence. Without such an effort it is very likely that the current negative views towards Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority will shape future American Middle East policy.
1 This survey also revealed that voters have a generally favorable view of President Clinton (48.2 percent favorable, 38.6 percent unfavorable) and a generic vote for Congress finds a toss-up between Republicans (37.1 percent) and Democrats (35.9 percent), with a large undecided vote (27 percent).