Young Democrats Drive Disapproval of Administration’s Pro-Israel Stance, National Survey Finds
By Liam Farrell
Supporters of Palestine gather in Washington, D.C., to protest the Gaza violence in May. A new UMD Critical Issues Poll shows the White House's pro-Israel response was out of step with the beliefs of some Democrats, especially those ages 18-34.
While President Joe Biden has enjoyed strong approval ratings among Democrats since his January inauguration, a new UMD poll shows the administration’s responses to the recent crisis in the Middle East put the White House out of step with some people in its own party—particularly its youngest members.
A UMD Critical Issues Poll released this week showed 52.6% of Americans disapproved of Biden’s response to the Gaza violence in May that followed Israel’s attempts to evict some Palestinian families from their Jerusalem homes; more than 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis, the vast majority civilians, were killed in attacks between the Israeli military and the militant group Hamas. While 27.7% of Democrats overall said they disapproved of Biden’s refusal to publicly criticize Israel or push to end the crisis, nearly half (49.7%) of Democrats ages 18-34 said the same, a sharp departure from Biden’s usual single-digit disapproval numbers among his own party.
“The president has taken a decidedly pro-Israel approach during the crisis,” said Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development and director of the Critical Issues Poll. “It turns out many Democrats don’t agree with him on that.”
The poll, conducted June 22-July 21 among a nationally representative sample of 3,379 Americans, also found that only 8.1% of Democrats blamed Palestinians for the crisis, versus 34.8% blaming Israel and 52.5% blaming both equally; among Democrats ages 18-34, the blame fell far more on Israelis (45.1%) than on Palestinians (6.1%).
Those gaps help explain why Biden received pushback during the Gaza crisis even from reliably pro-Israel Democrats in Congress, Telhami said, and may have contributed to the president’s recent overall slide in approval.
“Politicians were beginning to feel the heat from their constituents,” he said. “Notably, the national drop is mostly a function of a drop in approval among (Biden’s) Democratic constituency.”
In general, the poll found that most Republicans want the United States to lean toward Israel in its policies, while about three-quarters of Democrats want neutrality. Among those Democrats who prefer the U.S. to take a side, however, a majority favor the Palestinians, and that position is again more pronounced among Democrats ages 18-34: 34.5% want the U.S. to lean toward the Palestinians, nearly double what they said in a poll last year.
“That’s a huge shift in one year. It cannot simply be explained by long-term trends,” Telhami said. “One has to assume it has something to do with Gaza.”
How salient these findings will be for elections is still unknown, Telhami said. While 67.7% of Democrats and 44.4% of Republicans who know their congressional representatives’ stance on Israeli-Palestinian conflicts say their representatives lean toward Israel more than they do, that disconnect has generally been less important to voters than issues like the economy, health care and public safety.
“The only thing that protects politicians from the impact of that gap is that Israel-Palestine is typically not a priority issue. That unhappiness may not have electoral consequences,” he said. “The question is whether that’s changing.”
The poll was conducted online from a nationally representative sample of Nielsen Scarborough's probability-based panel, originally recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of adults provided by Survey Sampling International. It has a margin of error of +/- 1.69%.
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