President Joe Biden has a problem with the Democratic base when it comes to the Israel-Hamas War. It’s not just that his approval rating on the conflict is lower among Democrats than his overall approval rating. It’s that his base is divided – by age.
Younger Democrats are far more likely than older Democrats to view Israel skeptically when it comes to this war as well as the larger geopolitical context. The intra-party age gaps on this question are amongst the largest I’ve ever seen on any important issue.
Take a look at a recent Quinnipiac University poll on the topic. Biden’s approval rating for his handling of the Israel-Hamas War among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters is just 56%. Compare that to his 76% approval rating among Democratic voters for his overall job performance.
A significant minority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters (36%) disapprove of his handling of the war. Those voters tend to be young.
The lion’s share (69%) of Democrats and Democratic-leaning younger than 35 disapprove of how Biden is responding to the war. Just 24% approve. It’s the inverse among older Democrats. Most Democrats 65 and older (77%) approve of Biden on this issue. Few (16%) disapprove.
The cause of the split is pretty clear when you dig deeper into the data. Biden has been, by most neutral accounts, more sympathetic to Israel than Palestinians during the war. That doesn’t sit well with younger Democrats.
When asked which side they sympathize with, Israelis or Palestinians, more, Democrats younger than 35 are far more likely to sympathize with Palestinians (74%) than Israelis (16%). Democrats 65 and older are somewhat more likely to side with Israelis (45%) than Palestinians (25%).
The large divide by age causes Democrats and Democratic leaning voters overall to split basically evenly, with 39% sympathizing with Palestinians and 35% with Israelis.
This is a massive shift from the beginning of the Israel-Hamas War, when Democrats were more likely to sympathize with Israel by a 48% to 22% margin. That poll was taken in the immediate aftermath of a surprise terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people. Since that time, Israel has mounted an offensive in Gaza, and the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health says more than 10,000 Palestinians have died.
The age breakdown that we’re seeing now, though, goes deeper than just this war or the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. It comes down to whether Democrats see Israel as a partner.
Most Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters (70%) believe that supporting Israel is in the national interest. This includes 87% of those 65 and older.
Democrats younger than 35 see things entirely differently. Just 40% think backing Israel is in the national interest of this country. The majority (52%) disagree.
Perhaps not surprisingly, these younger Democrats don’t think we should be supplying military aid to Israel in its war with Hamas. A mere 21% agree that we should, while 77% are against it. Older Democrats are for it by a 53% to 32% margin.
In total, Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters were 49% in opposition to 44% in support.
Voters overall, on the other hand, are 53% in support to 39% opposed for more military aid for Israel.
Fissures like these are part of the reason why Biden would have a tough time politically shifting away from Israel. On every question Quinnipiac asked about the conflict, the feelings of the entire electorate were more in-line with the Israeli position (and that of older voters) than the other option given.
All voters by a 54% to 24% margin sympathized more with Israelis than Palestinians. Voters, including Democrats, Republicans and independents, by a 73% to 19% margin said backing Israel was in the national interest of America.
Biden’s problem is that he likely needs more support from younger voters heading into the 2024 election. He won voters younger than 35 by more than 20 points in 2020. Today, his lead over former President Donald Trump is in the low single digits in an average of recent polling ahead of a potential rematch.
It’s not clear that Biden’s handling of the war is causing his decreased backing from younger voters, but it can’t be helping him.
The bottom line is Biden finds himself in a political quandary. You can add this to his growing list of problems, as he is only the second incumbent president in the last 80 years to be trailing at this point before the next presidential election. The other is the man he beat three years ago – Trump.