It’s easy to forget now, but only a month ago, Bidenworld thought the Israeli assault on Gaza might be the president’s saving grace. After more than a year of dismal polling, Politico reported on October 20, Joe Biden’s advisors couldn’t believe their luck at “the opportunity presented by an unexpected crisis to feature Biden’s strengths.” It would show the US electorate a man “who is presidential, solid, and trusted around the world,” wrenching focus away from his age and ultimately proving an “inflection point” that would upend the political status quo.
That rosy prediction couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the weekend, a new NBC poll showed that far from improving his 2024 chances, Biden’s steadfast backing for Israel’s brutal, increasingly unpopular war has sent his approval rating tumbling to 40 percent.
The role of Biden’s disastrous Israel policy in cratering his poll numbers is especially urgent, with news of an Israeli-Hamas truce dominating headlines. Though Arab governments are urging that the four-day pause be extended into a proper cease-fire and serious talks for a two-state solution, Israeli officials are making clear they intend to quickly restart the war. Whether they do so will likely depend in large part on how Biden acts. And what he does should be informed, if not by basic human decency, then at least self-preservation.
All signs indicate that Biden’s decision to back the Israeli military campaign to the hilt is hurting his reelection chances.
According to the weekend’s NBC poll, the chief reasons for Biden’s new approval rating low are his drop in popularity among typically loyal Democratic voters, a hair over half of whom back his handling of the war — the only positive verdict among all groups of registered voters — and among the key demographic of voters aged eighteen to thirty-four, 70 percent of whom give Biden poor marks on the issue. Biden has a 31 percent approval rating among this group of young voters, whose high turnout in 2020 was essential for putting him in the White House.
That same NBC poll also happened to be the first one that showed Donald Trump leading the president.
And it’s not just one poll — the warning signs have been blaring for weeks. A University of Maryland survey conducted jointly with Ipsos between November 3 and 5 found that Biden’s posture on the war has brought him no upsides with the voting public, especially that same key demographic of voters under thirty-five.
Asked if Biden’s stance “on the Israeli-Palestinian issue” made them more or less likely to pull the lever for him, 31 percent answered less likely — roughly the same proportion that had said the same in late October — while only 10 percent said more. That latter figure had dropped four points since last month and had seen its biggest erosion among Democratic voters.
Among voters under thirty-five, the proportion answering “less likely” had shot up ten points, including nearly nine points among independents and a whopping twelve points among Democrats. In fact, young Democrats effectively flipped their position over the past month, ending up with nearly 21 percent less likely to back Biden because of his handling of the war, and only 10 percent more likely, with these figures largely reversed just weeks earlier.
Another survey, this one conducted between October 24 and 30, put Biden underwater in solidly blue California for the first time in his presidency. The Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll found the president with a 44 percent approval rating, compared to the 52 percent of Californians who disapproved of his job performance. Fully 55 percent of those asked disapproved of Biden’s handling of Israel’s war on Gaza. (That poll began only four days after Politico announced Bidenworld’s confidence that the war was about to turn things around for the president.)
What’s notable about these surveys is not just the clear signs that Biden’s stance has been dragging his popularity down with key voting blocs even as his administration worries that Republicans will paint him as insufficiently pro-Israel. It’s that Biden’s stance is also giving him absolutely no purchase with the GOP voters.
Despite an unconditional embrace of the Israeli military effort that has surprised even some former Barack Obama officials, the same NBC poll finds 69 percent of Republicans disapproving of Biden’s handling of the war, and only 22 percent approving. In the University of Maryland survey, Republicans effectively didn’t budge, with most of them — roughly 58 percent — stating they were less likely to vote for him after seeing how he’d approached the war.
The numbers are worse among young Republicans; from late October to early November, the proportion who said they were more likely to support him because of how he dealt with the issue fell from 3.6 percent to zero.
The administration should’ve already learned this lesson. Early this year, Biden initiated a conservative pivot under then-new chief of staff Jeff Zients, carrying out a series of policy moves presumably meant to shore up his right flank amid chronically poor approval ratings. Republican voters rewarded him with even more dire approval ratings than before.
Meanwhile, there are copious reports that Muslim and Arab Americans — an especially important constituency in key states like Michigan — may sit out or opt for another candidate in 2024 due to disgust with Biden. A survey released last month found that Biden’s support among Arab Americans had collapsed by forty-two points to just 17 percent, among a voter group Biden had carried by nearly thirty points nationwide in 2020.
At the same time, protests against the war — whose mostly young participants have taken to calling the president “Genocide Joe” and even reusing a Vietnam-era chant accusing the president of killing kids — are intensifying around the country. Last week, a demonstration at the Democratic National Committee headquarters produced ugly scenes of police violently trying to remove pro-cease-fire protesters blocking the entrance to the building as lawmakers sat inside; protests at the California Democratic Party’s convention last weekend also captured headlines.
There is already speculation that Biden could be risking a repeat of the Democratic Party’s infamous 1968 split over the war in Vietnam, which climaxed in a chaotic party convention in Chicago where police attacked young antiwar protesters and ended with election defeat for the party. Chicago — where pro-Palestinian protesters this past Saturday broke through police barricades to shut down Lake Shore Drive, one of the city’s major arterial roads — will again be the convention’s location in 2024.
Awful presidential decisions can usually be explained by cold-blooded political logic or a ruthless pursuit of what people in power construe as US interests. But Biden’s support for Israel’s horrendous campaign of military retribution has been neither good for the United States’ standing in the world nor for Biden or his party. As a chance to end the senseless bloodshed finally emerges, those with the president’s ear will have to realize it’s not continuing the war that will save Biden’s reelection chances, but the opposite.