Poll reveals broad disapproval of Biden in Gaza and little room to change course


Voters generally disapprove of how President Biden is handling the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll, and younger Americans are much more critical than older voters of both the conduct of Israel and the administration's response to the war. in Gaza.

Voters are also sending decidedly mixed signals about the direction U.S. policymaking should take as the war in Gaza moves into its third month, with Israelis still reeling from the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, thousands of Palestinian deaths in Gaza and The Biden administration is trying to pressure Israel to reduce its military campaign. Almost as many Americans want Israel to continue its military campaign as they want it to stop now to avoid further civilian casualties.

That division appears to leave the president with few politically acceptable options.

The findings of the Times/Siena poll are omens not only for Biden as he enters his 2024 re-election year, but also for the long-term relations between the Jewish state and its most powerful benefactor, the United States.

The fractured views on the conflict between traditionally Democratic voting groups show the continued difficulty Biden faces in holding together the coalition he built in 2020, a challenge that is likely to persist even as economic indicators become more positive and legal issues swirl around to his expected opponent, former President Donald J. Trump.

Overall, registered voters say they favor Trump over Biden in next year's presidential election by two percentage points, 46 percent to 44 percent. The president's job approval rating has fallen to 37 percent, down two points from July.

But there is considerable uncertainty about whether disaffected voters will even vote. While it's still early, the race is reversed among the likely electorate: Biden leads by two percentage points.

Economic concerns remain paramount: 34 percent of registered voters list economic or inflation-related concerns as the top issue facing the country. That's down from 45 percent in October 2022, but still high.

Voters between 18 and 29 years old stand out, traditionally a strongly Democratic demographic group. Nearly three-quarters of them disapprove of the way Biden is handling the conflict in Gaza. And among registered voters, they say they would vote for Trump between 49 and 43 percent; in July, those young voters backed Biden by 10 percentage points.

“I don't want to vote for someone who is not aligned with my personal values, as Biden has shown he is not when it comes to Gaza,” said Colin Lohner, a 27-year-old software engineer in San Francisco. But he asked: “Do I vote for Biden or don't I vote at all? “That's really hard, because if I don't vote for Biden, I open up the possibility of Trump winning, and I really don't want that.”

The electorate appears to be in doubt about what should happen next, a ceasefire or a continued campaign against Hamas, whose terrorist attack on October 7 killed some 1,200 Israelis and sparked the conflagration.

Given a choice between two courses of action, a narrow plurality of voters, 44 percent, said Israel should halt its military campaign to protect itself against civilian casualties, which already number nearly 20,000 dead, according to Gaza health authorities. A similar number, 39 percent, advised the opposite course: Israel should continue its military campaign even if it means civilian casualties in Gaza increase.

The results were almost identical regardless of whether respondents were given Israel's goal of securing the release of all hostages (stopping the war means the hostages can remain in captivity) or eliminating Hamas (stopping means Hamas cannot be eradicated).

“It's putting pressure on Israel to seek peace with Hamas, which I personally don't think Israel should seek peace with Hamas,” said William Hunting, a 24-year-old libertarian who works in sales in Asheville, North Carolina, and who favors Trump. he said of Mr. Biden.

Most young voters, however, answered question after question with answers that showed they see the worst in Israel. Few of them believe that Israelis are serious about peace with the Palestinians. Nearly half say Israel is intentionally killing civilians. Nearly three-quarters say Israel is not taking enough precautions to avoid civilian casualties. And a majority opposes additional economic and military aid to Israel.

The general electorate, by contrast, takes a much more pro-Israel view, suggesting that Israel's image problems with American voters are more acute on the political horizon than they are today.

Still, 48 percent of all voters surveyed said they believed Israel was not taking enough precautions to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza.

Those who identify themselves as regular TikTok users were the most blunt in their criticism. The social media platform, owned by a Chinese company, has come under heated criticism from both parties, but especially Republicans, for an incendiary stream of videos targeting very young users. Even controlling for age, TikTok users were more critical of the Biden administration's policies toward Israel.

“It's a lot of really violent images of civilian casualties and hospital bombings,” Lohner said, citing TikTok and another platform, Instagram. “I'm trying to take it at face value and recognize that this is social media and it could be anything, but it seems like these are on-the-ground perspectives of what's really going on.”

The war also appears to be furthering the process of turning Israel into a partisan issue. For years, Republicans, led by Trump, have accused Democrats of undermining Israel's government and implored Jewish voters to abandon the party that nearly three-quarters of them have traditionally called their political home.

Now a partisan divide is emerging that could affect the comfort of some Jewish voters within the Democratic Party: 76 percent of Republicans said they sympathize with Israel more than the Palestinians. Among white evangelical Christians, whose theological emphasis on Israel is at the core of the Republican Party's staunch support, sympathy for Israel is even higher, at 80 percent. Democrats show no such consensus: 31 percent said they sympathize more with Israel, 34 percent with the Palestinians, and 16 percent said they sympathize with both.

“Israel is a beacon of freedom in the Middle East that is surrounded by very different governments,” said Summer Jennings, 29, a Republican graphic designer near Raleigh, North Carolina, “and if Israel retreats, it will be just these oppressive governments.” . .”

Although Biden's policies may favor Israel, he said he believed Trump would take the same approach, but more forcefully: “As much of an idiot as Trump was, I feel like Biden is very weak,” Jennings said. saying.

The divide among Democrats could alienate Jewish voters who overwhelmingly chose Biden in 2020 and are anxiously watching a rise in anti-Semitism that has accompanied anger against Israel's war effort. Cory Lebson to A 50-year-old Jewish Democrat from Silver Spring, Maryland, said anti-Semitism “seems like the worst thing I can remember in my 50 years. “It’s more prominent, it’s more visible.”

But he praised the president highly. “I think he's been very good at balancing left and right and coming up with a nuanced response,” Lebson said, adding: “Biden historically, throughout his political career, has always supported Jews. community and very against anti-Semitism.”

The generation gap reflects not only the experiences that people of different age groups have had with the 75-year conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but also their exposure to social media, especially TikTok, where brutal images of murdered Palestinians bombard people's eyes. Young.

To George A. Sanders Sr., 78 years old, a retired in Littleton, Massachusetts, there is no doubt: “America stands with Israel.” Sanders, an independent who plans to vote for Biden, added: “We may not like everything that Israel is doing or has done, but as long as they are a free democracy, we are going to support them. That's right”.

Lyndsey Griswold, a 20-year-old student at Temple University in Philadelphia, marks the other side of the divide. She implored Biden to change course from military to humanitarian support.

“I would like you to show some compassion for the Palestinian families and the Israeli families who are taking the brunt of all this in Gaza,” he said. “This country has a lot of money to send to civilians who are being actively harmed by this conflict.”

Older voters were much more sympathetic to Biden's efforts. Fifty-two percent of registered voters age 65 and older approve of Biden's actions on Israel, 12 percentage points higher than those who disapprove. And older Americans vote reliably.

“Armchair quarterbacks in this situation, what do they expect?” asked Christine Johnson, 69, a retired computer consultant in Oak Park, Illinois, who plans to vote for Biden. “What would they do? My feelings are I approve. I think he is doing the best that can be done.”

It is unclear to what extent criticism of Biden will translate into votes for Trump, or anyone else, given the admitted disaffection of young voters sympathetic to the Palestinians. Voters under 45 who say they disapprove of the president's Gaza policies are also more likely than young voters who approve of his policies to admit they didn't vote in 2020. These young critics are choosing Trump over Biden, by 16 percentage points , but they can't vote.

Young voters who disapprove of Biden's Israel-Gaza policies but still say they will vote for him are also slightly more likely to say they will definitely vote than young critics who side with the former president.

And many are torn. crochet evan, A 30-year-old video producer from Cary, North Carolina, who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, the left-wing independent, in the 2016 Democratic primary, said he saw Biden and Trump as “two sides of the same coin.” “

“I don't trust Biden on Israel, I don't trust Trump on Israel,” he said.

If forced to choose, he would reluctantly opt for Trump, he said, although he is leaning toward Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist who is running as an independent. He said he wanted Biden to be punished.

“We're at a point where I think all of this needs to stop,” Crochet said of the Gaza war. “I think Biden needs to be held accountable for this. I think he should be held responsible for the crimes.”

Israel still retains healthy loyalties in the United States. But the future of such sentiments is unclear. Among young voters, 46 percent are more sympathetic to the Palestinians, compared to 27 percent who favor Israel.

Only 28 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said Israel was seriously interested in a peaceful solution to the broader conflict; half of them said Palestinians were. Older voters had much more faith in Israel's intentions and less in those of the Palestinians.

The New York Times/Siena College poll of 1,016 registered voters nationwide was conducted by telephone using live operators from December 10 to 14, 2023. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for registered voters. Crosstabs and methodology are available here.

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