02:26 - Source: CNN
Frayed edges showing in U.S.- Israel relationship
(CNN) —  

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to make his case on Iran’s nuclear abilities in a controversial speech to Congress on Tuesday, nearly half of Americans believe it was wrong to invite him to deliver it, according to a new poll.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey out Sunday found that 48% of registered voters disapprove of congressional Republicans’ move to invite Netanyahu to address Congress without notifying President Barack Obama first. Thirty percent say the invitation was okay, and another 22% said they didn’t know enough to judge.

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But support splits clearly down party lines — 47% of Republicans say they support inviting foreign leaders to address Congress without first notifying the president, while only 12% of Democrats feel the same.

House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite the Israeli prime minister without giving ample notice to the White House has strained an already tense relationship between Netanyahu and Obama. The prime minister is expected to use the speech to push for tougher sanctions on Iran and criticize the developing nuclear deal with the nation that Obama has been pursuing for years.

Democrats see political undertones to the speech, as it comes just weeks before Israel’s elections and many critics believe Netanyahu is using it to bolster his standing with voters at home. Many have decided to boycott the speech in defense of the president, and Obama won’t be meeting with the foreign leader during his visit to the U.S.

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The poll suggests, however, that though Netanyahu’s visit is causing controversy in Washington, it hasn’t yet hit home for many Americans. Nearly half of U.S. voters said they hadn’t read, seen or heard any news coverage about Netanyahu’s visit, while a third said they had seen some news coverage.

As Republican sentiment towards Netanyahu has improved, so has his standing with American voters overall. He’s now seen positively by 30% of U.S. voters, up from just 24% last August; that’s driven by the fact that now 49% of Republicans say they have a positive view of the prime minister, a 13-point increase from August. Democrats’ views of the Israeli leader are largely unchanged, at 12% from 13% last August.

Israel remains largely popular with Americans, with 47% of U.S. voters saying they view the country positively, while 17% view it negatively.

The poll was conducted Feb. 25-28 among 800 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.