President Joe Biden continues to stand behind Israel, a position that is testing his base of support within the party as the conflict enters its seventh week.
The latest sign of trouble emerged over the weekend, as an NBC News poll found that 70% of voters aged 18-34 disapprove of Biden’s handling of the Israel–Hamas war. The White House dismissed the significance of the numbers.
“There are going to be a number of polls that are going to be coming out, which obviously we respect,” White House press secretary Jean-Pierre said when asked about the poll. “But what I’ll be very clear about is that we are not going to govern by polls here.”
Even so, Democrats are growing worried about surveys that show Biden falling behind former President Donald Trump. While Biden’s approval ratings have been stuck in the low 40s since the August 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, they’ve slipped further among far-left voters, younger voters, and Muslim voters since the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7.
Calls for a ceasefire in the war have grown among those groups, and vocal pro-Palestinian protesters have blocked bridges and even clashed with police last week outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
The protests clearly indicate a divide within the party, Democratic strategist Brad Bannon says, but one he contends is unlikely to sway the 2024 presidential election.
“The reality is that Americans are more likely to vote on domestic issues than foreign policy issues,” Bannon said. “There’s a difference between being unhappy and horrified. Young voters are horrified by Republican social policies.”
More than 3 out of 4 young voters supported abortion rights in the recent Ohio election, Bannon argued, adding that they will trust Biden on the Israel war more so than any of his GOP rivals.
“Voters don’t want Donald Trump as commander in chief when the world is at war,” he said.
Most of the protests and White House briefing room questions have centered on the civilian death toll in Gaza and particularly on reports that Israel has targeted hospitals where Hamas is accused of operating. Biden administration officials stress that the president is pushing for Israel to be as discriminate and cautious as possible in his conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We don’t want to see hospitals as battlegrounds,” National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said Monday. “We don’t want to see firefights in hospitals.”
Even so, Biden is taking criticism from the Left for not calling for a ceasefire, with some even calling him “Genocide Joe.”
Benjamin Radd, a UCLA global studies lecturer, says the far Left’s embrace of Palestinians grows from the wider identity politics movement.
“A lot of young people have now linked all these other sorts of identity issues, things from civil rights to Black Lives Matter, transgender rights — you name it,” he said. “It’s been lumped into this broader Israel-Hamas conflict.”
Biden is working with a controversial domestic leader in the form of Netanyahu, who hails from the political Right and is facing his own negative polling. A local news station poll found that 76% of Israeli respondents wanted Netanyahu out of office.
Israel has struggled with the public relations side of the war, Radd argues, failing to message the danger of Hamas in Gaza and its operations near and underneath hospitals effectively, as well as how the organization continues to hold more than 200 Israeli and American hostages.
Biden is hoping for a breakthrough on the latter front, saying he believes a deal is near for the release of at least some of them.
That could help the president score a win in the conflict that would release some pressure domestically, at least temporarily.
Netanyahu and Biden have known each other since the 1980s, but Radd argues that the president could also benefit from a leadership change in Israel.
“I don’t think anyone on the Biden team is going to shed a tear if Bibi is removed or loses power,” Radd said. “That may even be a benefit because it can demonstrate that the United States is supporting Israel in general and is not a pro-Netanyahu foreign policy agenda.”