Will Joe Biden's stance on Israel and Gaza push away young voters?

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Elez Beresin-Scher, 21, a junior at Bryn Mawr College, (left), and Noe Caplan, 20, a junior at Swarthmore College, (right), march as they call for a ceasefire in Gaza on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. The students walked from Haverford College to Bryn Mawr’s campus along Lancaster Avenue.

Madeleine Schick’s mantra before voting after the rise of former President Donald Trump in 2016 was, “No matter who votes, don’t vote blue.” He debated with people who supported third-party candidates, but now he is on the other side of that controversy.

Schick, 22, said she could not vote for any candidate who has not already called for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, including President Joe Biden.

“It’s hard to say that Trump would be much worse, and this is coming from a guy who wore a Biden shirt, wore a Biden pin and really, really, really,” said Schick, who recently graduated from Drexel University. “Thought we had to keep Trump out.” Now working as a legal assistant.

Philly area young voters disappointed with Joe Biden face a conundrum: To vote or not to vote. And if so, for whom?

Biden won voters under 30 by a wide margin in 2020, but his popularity with that group has waned and polls suggest the conflict in Gaza has played a role. The decline in support among Democratic-leaning young voters could prove crucial, as Biden looks to hold on to the fragile coalition that elected him in 2020, with his reelection contest just nine months away.

The Inquirer interviewed two dozen young voters, including CeaseFire activists, college Democrats and other students in the Philadelphia area. All but one expressed disappointment with Biden – most pointing to Gaza, where the death toll has exceeded 26,000, as a major cause. Half said they would still vote for Biden over Trump, but the rest said they had not yet decided or planned to withhold their vote for Biden.

While younger voters have also expressed overall disappointment over Biden’s age and progress on some domestic policies, the Israel-Hamas war has become a particularly powerful issue. Ceasefire activists have opposed the president at nearly every campaign stop, including Pennsylvania, a key battleground state. These moments illustrate a fractured Democratic Party along generational and ideological divides and draw attention away from dissatisfaction with Biden and his campaign message.

A New York Times/Siena College poll in December found that 72% of voters ages 18 to 29 disapproved of Biden’s handling of the conflict, while 20% approved. And broadly speaking, 67% of voters in this age group disapprove of Biden’s overall job performance.

Young voters generally turn out at lower rates than older voters, who are more sympathetic to Biden’s stance on Israel in the wake of the October 7 attack by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages was taken. A New York Times poll showed that 52% of voters over the age of 65 approved of the president’s handling of the issue.

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The age gap on the issue reflects a broader rift in the Democratic base that Biden may struggle to heal before Election Day.

“That’s what I’m horrified by,” said state Rep. Rick Krajewski, a Democrat who represents parts of West Philadelphia. “The coalition that had to come together in 2020 will have to come together again in 2024 and right now I see a clear gap in that coalition because many of these voters feel extremely disappointed and disillusioned.”

Noor Boman, 22, who is Muslim and took part in the cease-fire protests, said her peers previously thought voting blue was the safest option – even when they weren’t enthusiastic about the candidate. . But they are moving away from that approach because of support for Israel in both parties.

“I don’t think I’m better off because of this president, or worse off because of that president,” said Bowman, a senior at Drexel, who campaigned and voted for Biden in 2020, but says he would vote for him again. Will not vote for. “But what I can see is that there is a group of people who are worse off because of our national stance on policy. So if a president is perpetuating this, I can’t vote for him.

A form of protest

In December, more than 300 Ceasefire protesters stood outside a Biden fundraiser at Penn’s Landing, chanting, “In November, we will remember.”

He also faced smaller demonstrations in Montgomery County, the Allentown area and a Philadelphia food bank during his three trips to Pennsylvania in January.

When asked by reporters about the protests last week, Biden’s deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said, “Joe Biden is looking at the Middle East situation not through the lens of politics but as the commander in chief of this country who puts American security and global security first.” Seeing as.” ,

The campaign has highlighted Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies, and argued that Biden has handled the disruptions without regard to the First Amendment rights of protesters, which Fulks called “a stark contrast with Republican Donald Trump who “Here we are talking about a ban on Muslims… which just wants to further divide Americans.”

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Those who won’t vote for Biden on this issue see it as another form of protest — a way to hold officials accountable who have ignored their demands. Some see Trump’s short-lived presidency as the price of long-term change, whether through Democrats taking him more seriously or through third parties gaining traction.

While there are nine months left until Election Day, some said their view of Biden would not change even if he called for a cease-fire, saying the damage has already been done.

“I don’t think any of them deserve my support,” said Nada Abusi, 22, a Palestinian Drexel graduate student and organizer of the Philly Palestine Coalition, who voted for Biden in 2020. “The idea is not to not vote for Biden and vote for Trump, it is to withhold your vote altogether. This is not even participating in the electoral system.”

Abusi was one in ten young voters who described the conflict as “genocide” when discussing their frustrations with Biden, according to a January Economist/YouGov poll, a classification by which more than a third of Americans Agree. Israeli and US officials have strongly opposed using the term to describe Israel’s war against Hamas, as alleged in a UN court case brought by South Africa.

Gage Bernstein, 22, a junior and member of the Temple Democrats, stands out among the student political group for being pro-Israel. Bernstein said, he is concerned that his colleagues are abandoning other issues they care about and seeing Biden “as some kind of right-winger for this, and he’s really not that.”

“I worry that they will see Biden as something he’s not, and that could take away their votes,” Bernstein said. “And obviously, none of us want Trump to be re-elected.”

A reluctant vote

Biden still leads with voters under 30 – 55% said they would support him over Trump in the Economist/YouGov poll, but that’s less than the percentage who supported Biden in 2020, according to exit polls. There is a decline.

Kate Lyden, 21, a Lehigh University senior and president of the Pennsylvania College Democrats, said young people want elected officials to listen, and while they currently feel betrayed, they have more to do with being heard by Biden than by Trump. There is a better possibility.

“Is Biden the most ideal path forward? No.” Liden said. “But in terms of what the ultimate goal is, if young people collectively want a ceasefire – or at least the United States or the administration takes the stance of calling for a ceasefire and doing that – then I “Looks like continuing to support Biden is going to be the way forward.”

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Most young people who told The Inquirer they would support Biden are doing so without enthusiasm, following the Democratic Party’s gospel that Trump has derailed other issues important to young voters such as reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, climate change, guns. There is a serious risk of violence. , and democracy. But still, some people feel conflicted and do not see the Democratic Party keeping its promises.

“I think most of the people I know are voting for Biden, but I don’t think anyone is happy about it,” said Amanda Leigh, a 19-year-old Temple University student.

And while an unenthusiastic vote counts just as much as an enthusiastic vote – there is also the question of how a decline in support among young people could affect the event.

Bryn Mawr College senior Madeline Kessler, 21, said she would only vote for Biden if he would help end the war. Still, she will not actively campaign for him.

“I will never buy a Biden 2024 T-shirt,” said Kessler, who is Jewish and was one of the organizers of last week’s Ceasefire protest in which students marched from Haverford College to Bryn Mawr. “I won’t knock on a single door for him. I wouldn’t make a single phone call, and I’m sure I’m not the only young person who feels that way.”

Sarah Neibler, a political science professor at Dickinson College, said it’s unclear what war might look like in November. But Biden’s primary argument that Trump is a more dangerous alternative may not be fair, he said.

“Especially for younger voters who have shorter memories, if they’re 18, 19 years old … they probably weren’t paying as much attention,” Nibler said. “They don’t remember or maybe they don’t feel the urgency to vote against someone.”

Junior Elise Beresin-Sher, 21, of Bryn Mawr, who is Jewish, said she doesn’t know whether she will vote for Biden because his support for Israel creates a moral dilemma.

“I think we have an advantage,” said Beresin-Sher, one of the protest organizers. “I think we have the strength in numbers. “I think real change only happens because people put pressure on people in power and force people in power to make change.”