Reports about Biden’s tanking poll numbers over the past week show an incumbent president in unprecedented trouble. In the 2020 election, Biden’s support from young voters was a commanding 20 points higher than Trump’s; now, he’s virtually tied with Trump with young voters in five key swing states. The headlines don’t look good for the President. “Trump Leads in 5 Critical States as Voters Blast Biden, Times/Siena Poll Finds,” The New York Times warned on Monday. The headline of another article published in Politico this week reads, “Biden’s Big Hole, and How to Dig Out of It.” The voter malaise predates Biden’s blank check for Israel’s current war in Gaza, which began after the Oct. 7 surprise Hamas-led attack and dramatically escalated with Israel’s subsequent, unprecedentedly brutal siege, invasion, and bombing campaign. But it has gotten much worse of late, raising alarm bells for donors and party leaders.
This plummet in support for a sitting president is certainly newsworthy in its own right, but what could possibly be causing so many potential voters to sour on Biden? The vast majority of mainstream reports try to answer this question by pointing to broader, more evergreen indicators of voters’ concerns like election integrity and voting rights, gun policy, crime, immigration, abortion, climate change, and the ever-so-vague “foreign policy.” What’s missing from most of these same reports, though, is an accounting of the specific role Joe Biden’s support for the carnage in Gaza is almost certainly playing in this freefall in support from young voters, progressive voters, and Muslim and Arab voters more broadly.
Recent reports on Biden’s bad polling in The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, ABC News, New York Magazine, and Financial Times ignore the role of Biden’s backing of Gaza’s bombardment entirely. None of the above polls even asked respondents specifically about Biden’s role in Israel’s scorched-earth bombing and siege of Gaza. Instead, they focused on generic contributors like economic malaise and perennial “swing” issues like those listed above. Which are all fine enough, but they may not be sufficient to explain how poorly the President is doing, especially among young voters.
Some outlets have connected the dots. Rolling Stone ran a piece showing how Biden’s support for Israel’s onslaught is harming his 2024 prospects, as did NBC News, Daily Beast, Mother Jones and Slate. But such reports, especially over the past week, have been, by far, the exception rather than the rule. The Washington Post mentioned Gaza in its breakdown of Biden’s terrible poll numbers, but then quickly dismissed this as a fleeting issue that will simply blow over. Although the Post concedes that “Some Biden allies argue that because the latest polls were conducted in the midst of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, the results paint a picture that is likely to change.” Okay, well, never mind, then.
This is all in spite of the fact that key indicators suggest there are real shifts taking place in the base of the Democratic Party. A Gallup poll released in March found that Democrats’ “sympathies in the Middle East now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis, 49% versus 38%.” And a separate survey conducted on Oct. 18 and 19 by Data for Progress found that 80% of Democrats either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” with the following statement: “The U.S. should call for a ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza. The U.S. should leverage its close diplomatic relationship with Israel to prevent further violence and civilian deaths.”
Yet Biden—and the overwhelming majority of congressional Democrats—are glaringly out of step with these shifts among their own base.
As NBC News notes, “Muslim and Arab Americans, who overwhelmingly backed Biden in 2020, have threatened not to vote for him next year over what they say is a lack of U.S. action to help Palestinian civilians. A new survey of Michigan Democrats finds his support cratering among the group.”
Again, the majority of reports published at major outlets this week leave one with only a partial picture of what could be driving that “cratering” support, but Al Jazeera recently produced a segment capturing the outrage and disgust among the reliably Democratic voting base of Arabs and Muslims in the swing state of Michigan. It’s certainly worth watching:
In a forceful op-ed published in In These Times on Oct. 25, Saqib Bhatti, co-executive director of the Action Center on Race & The Economy, unequivocally declared, “I will not vote for Joe Biden in 2024.” Bhatti writes, “There are few things as dehumanizing as when a politician you voted for greenlights the genocide and purposeful starvation of children who could be your own. For many, like me, Gaza is the last straw.”
Even if data scientists are not certain Biden’s Gaza policy is a major factor in his declining approval ratings, surely it’s at least a potential factor that warrants some mention? Any mention at all?
The absence of these perspectives from our popular discourse is no small matter; it has tremendous political consequences. If Biden’s role in the destruction of Gaza—and his lockstep support for the killing of over 12,000 civilians, including 4,600 children—isn’t connected to some political downside, especially when this downside is easily inferred from virtually every poll over the past month, the pressure on the White House is diminished and the status quo can be seen by those with influence and power as politically sustainable. The public is deprived of an opportunity to weigh in on a large-scale, US-backed massacre as it is unfolding. Polling, with all of its flaws, can serve as a useful mechanism for accountability, and popularity (or lack thereof) can drive public policy decisions. But it’s impossible to register public outrage over Gaza when pollsters don’t even ask about it and our media overlooks it when trying to solve the mystery of Biden’s relative lack of support and enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, politicians are far more influenced by electoral consequences than persuasive moral arguments or shaming.
The overwhelming media response to the upswell of youth-driven outrage—after attempts to semantically sidestep the reality of genocide, deny and debate death counts as bodies are piling up by the thousands, and to ban the allegedly pro-Palestinian TikTok app became untenable—has been to either falsely claim Biden is powerless to stop Israel, or to play the classics and refocus on voter-scolding and rote, Lesser-of-Two-Evils arguments. There is a dearth of coverage taking this outrage seriously as a political force, even as tens of thousands take to the streets, and creative direct actions on a stunning scale pop off across the country, from Grand Central Station and downtown Chicago to the Statue of Liberty, to weapons manufacturers, to ports, to Congress members’ offices and homes. We are seeing such a tremendous upsurge in mobilizations, in the US and beyond, that it is difficult to track. For those paying attention, it is clear that the liberal and progressive despair over the rising deaths and suffering in Gaza is boiling over; people are desperate to stop the onslaught. The problem is that the powers that be are not listening, and much of the media is ensuring that the volume of that despair and desperation is turned down to zero.
Any party, organization, or class of political power brokers that is not paying attention to this reality is bound to lose a good chunk of its base. The press, by shielding the broader public from this clear, emerging dynamic that is, at least in part, driving Biden’s bad polls, is not only helping to hide the political downside to backing mass killing in Gaza, but potentially making any course correction—no matter how remote—that much less likely.