24.11.23 USA Review

The Palestinian Issue Has Aged Biden: The war in Gaza is demobilising his potential young voters

Washington's support for Israel in its war on Hamas is markedly reducing Joe Biden's chances of re-election in 2024. Historically, the American public is pro-Israeli, and since the Hamas terrorist attack, sympathies towards Israel have significantly increased, expressed by around 40% of Americans surveyed. However, in terms of party and age groups, the opposite is true: the war in Gaza has led to a marked increase in pro-Palestinian sympathies among Democratic Party supporters and young voters, two electoral groups crucial to Biden's campaign, along with anti-Trump youth who do not identify with Republicans and Democrats. Surveys indicate that Biden is losing ground in the states that contributed to his victory in the 2020 presidential elections. Biden's main issue — his age — had a demobilising effect on young voters even before the Gaza war, and this effect is now further intensified by disapproval of his pro-Israel policy within these key demographic groups.

Historically, among all Western countries, it is the residents of the United States who have demonstrated the highest level of support for Israel. According to a YouGov poll conducted in mid-May, 29% of US residents expressed sympathy for Israel in its conflict with Palestine. This is significantly higher than in Germany (17%), which comes second on the list, and almost three times higher than in the UK (10%). At the same time, 15% of the Americans surveyed sympathised with the Palestinian side, while 21% sympathised with both; 34% of respondents found it difficult to answer. At first glance, support for Israel in the US has grown since the Hamas attack: at the end of October, 41% sympathised with Israel, 28% sympathised with both sides, and 13% with the Palestinians. The growth in the first two groups came at the expense of those who could not previously provide a definitive answer. In the poll conducted on 9 November, the numbers were roughly the same, but support for Israel dropped slightly: 37% expressed sympathy for the Israeli side, 27% for both sides, and 15% for the Palestinian side.

However, American support for Israeli policy is not uniform and has always varied significantly among different age groups and at the party level.

While among Republicans the level of approval for Israel's actions has increased slightly over the past twenty years, Democrats, on the contrary, have shifted their sympathies sharply towards Palestine during the same period, the Financial Times notes in its survey. Up until 2015, according to Gallup polls, the positive balance of sympathy in favour of Israel among Democrats was 20-30 percentage points, in the early 2020s it was minimal, and in March 2023 it had become negative, that is, the share of those sympathetic to the Palestinian side exceeded that sympathising with Israel by 11 percentage points.

While overall support for Israel has grown since the terror attack and the start of the war, among those who voted for Biden in 2020, only 25% supported Israel while 20% supported Palestine. By comparison, among Donald Trump voters, 76% are pro-Israel. The bulk of Israel supporters in the Democratic camp are over the age of 45. Meanwhile, among Democrats under 29, 28% support Palestine and only 20% support Israel. According to an AP-NORC poll conducted in November, the majority of Democrats under 45 (65%) as well as People of Colour (58%) disapprove of Biden's handling of the Gaza conflict. On the other hand, 67% of voters over 45 and White voters (62%) approve of his actions.

In addition, it is worth noting that the distribution of opinions among independent (non-partisan) voters is closer to the Democratic camp than to the Republican camp: here, according to the November poll, 30% sympathise with Israel (27% among Democrats and 58% among Republicans), and 16% sympathise with the Palestinians (20% among Democrats and 9% among Republicans).

According to the Financial Times and many other analysts, this shift in the mood of young voters could seriously complicate Biden's re-election bid in 2024, where he will likely face Donald Trump. Currently, this competition is unfolding unfavourably for Biden: according to the November survey by The New York Times and Siena College, Biden is trailing Trump in five out of six swing states, each of which he won in the 2020 elections. Of these key swing states where the vote could determine the outcome of the presidential election, Biden is currently ahead of Trump only in Wisconsin (by 3%), but trailing in Arizona (5%), Georgia (6%), Michigan (5%), Nevada (11%) and Pennsylvania (4%).

Behind this is the weakening of the incumbent's position in almost all of his traditional support groups that voted for him in the last presidential election, The New York Times notes. Support for the Democratic nominee has fallen among Hispanic and Black voters, and among Americans of Arab descent it has plummeted 42%, from 59% in 2020 to 17%. Biden retains the support of the majority of women, but nearly twice as many men are willing to vote for Trump as for the incumbent. Finally, among voters under 30, Biden leads Trump in swing states by only 1 percentage point, whereas four years ago, 24% more young voters nationwide voted for him than for his Republican rival.

An important factor working unequivocally against Biden in the upcoming election is his age (the US president recently turned 81). 71% of Americans believe that Biden is 'too old' to be an effective president. This view is shared by all demographic groups, and also by 54% of Biden supporters. In contrast, only 39% of the entire electorate (and 19% of Trump supporters) think that 77-year-old Trump is too old for another four years in the presidential office. Biden's age has been a very important factor before — to win, he needs to mobilise a young electorate, which, on the one hand, is less supportive of Trump and, on the other hand, is more sensitive to the issue of age. The disagreement of the youth with Biden's pro-Israel policy further complicates the situation, if not making re-election almost hopeless.