Biden Should Heed Democratic Voters on Gaza

American voters are more likely to vote for candidates that support a ceasefire.

2024 may be the first election in which the issues involving Palestin­ian rights may impact the outcome. Over the past several decades, elections have been fought over a range of domestic and foreign policy con­cerns - from civil rights and abortion to the wars in Viet­nam and Iraq. In most instanc­es these were partisan “wedge” issues - that is, issues that were used by one party against the oth­er. What is important to note about the growing concern for Palestinian rights is that it has become a “wedge issue“ that is dividing the Democratic Party.

Whether deliberate or not, Democrats made a fateful choice over the past sev­eral decades. They abandoned the white working class in favor of courting what has come to be known as “Obama vot­ers.” They were young voters, voters of color (Black, Latino, and Asian), and ed­ucated women voters. The problem is that having lost a sizable percentage of white working-class voters, Democrats can’t afford to lose the substantial ma­jorities of voters from the Obama coali­tion they need to win national elections.

Recent polls, like one conducted in De­cember by the New York Times, show that young voters are deeply disappoint­ed with Biden’s handling of the war on Gaza. They demonstrate greater solidar­ity with Palestinians than with Israelis and, in part, motivated by their dissatis­faction, they appear less inclined to sup­port him in 2024 elections.

Given the ongoing deadly violence in Gaza and the start of the 2024 election year, this past week my Arab American Institute cosponsored a Summit on Gaza together with the Rainbow PUSH Coali­tion, founded by my friend, Rev. Jesse Jackson and other partners. In order to have a detailed look at how voters were thinking about the war, we commis­sioned a special nationwide poll of likely voters. We learned four central lessons: because of growing sympathy for Pales­tinians, voters want American policy to be more balanced and less supportive of Israel; because of the toll the bomb­ings have taken on Palestinian lives, voters want US military aid to Israel to be restricted and conditional; voters want members of Congress to support a ceasefire and are less inclined to sup­port candidates who oppose a ceasefire; and finally, in almost every instance, the percentages of young voters and non-white voters who support a more bal­anced Middle East policy, conditioning aid to Israel, and a ceasefire far exceeds those of other groups of voters. And be­cause these two groups are so important to their party’s chances in 2024, Demo­crats had better find ways to change di­rection and wind them back.

What follows are the key summary points:

American public opinion has shifted away from Israel as the invasion of Gaza continues. A plurality of voters (42%) now say they sympathize with both Is­raelis and Palestinians equally. While more Americans indicated sympathy to­wards Israelis alone than Palestinians

alone, Palestinians have more support among voters who are young (34% to 16%) and people of color (21% to 17%).

Since the start of the current violence in Gaza, sympathy for Palestinians has increased especially among Democrats (23% increased sympathy towards Pal­estinians versus 17% toward Israelis), younger Americans (37% increased sympathy towards Palestinians vers­es 27% for Israelis), and people of color (29% increased sympathy towards Pal­estinians verses 13% for Israelis).

At the same time, Americans are calling into question the Biden Administration’s handling of the conflict. When asked to evaluate President Biden’s policy, 50% of Americans believe it favors Israel. But when asked how the Biden Administra­tion should conduct U.S. policy, a plural­ity of respondents (42%) say U.S. poli­cy should be balanced between Israeli and Palestinian needs. By a decisive two-to-one margin, voters say that instead of siding with Israel (a position held by only 26%), the U.S. should strive to be an honest broker between Israelis and Pal­estinians (a position held by 57%).

This questioning of the Biden Admin­istration’s one-sided support for Israel also has an impact on voters’ attitudes toward U.S. military assistance to that state. By a two-to-one margin (51% to 26%), voters reject the notion that the U.S. should give unrestricted military as­sistance to Israel as long as Israel is put­ting Palestinian civilian lives at risk.

By the same two-to-one margin, re­spondents said that they sided with those Democratic Senators who object­ed to the President’s recent decision to bypass congressional oversight in send­ing weapons to Israel. A plurality of vot­ers (41%) now indicate that it is time to consider cutting or conditioning Isra­el’s annual $3.8 billion appropriation for military assistance. American voters are more likely to vote for candidates that support a ceasefire. Respondents want a ceasefire and an end to the conflict. In responses to two separate questions, by a two-to-one margin, respondents indi­cated they are more inclined to support a member of Congress who supports a ceasefire and that they are less willing to support members of Congress who op­pose calls for a ceasefire.

The bottom line is that Democrats should be hearing alarms going off as a result of the White House’s refusal to stop the way Israel is conducting this war or even consider supporting a ceasefire to end the killing. The result is that they are losing votes from groups that have formed their most loyal supporters.

The caviler attitude of those who are guiding President Biden’s campaign is simplistic and deeply flawed. Betting on young and non-white voters will all drift­ing back to Biden in November - since they won’t want to see Donald Trump return to the White House - is demeaning to the feel­ings of these voters. It’s also dangerous. As the New York Times poll demonstrates, al­most one in five say they would prefer to vote for third party candidates. The “po­litical pros” in the White House need to consider this threat and not discount it as Democrats did in 2000 and 2016.

Dr. James J. Zogby
The writer is the President of Arab American Institute.

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