President Biden this week strongly defended Israel’s raid of the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital, al-Shifa. While again emphasizing the need for caution, he accused Hamas of using the hospital to conceal its “headquarters” and pitched the raid as a legitimate effort to root out terrorism.
“The idea that [Israel is] going to just stop and not do anything is not realistic,” Biden said. “This is not the carpet bombing.”
But new polling shows that aligning strongly with Israel is becoming an increasingly difficult sales pitch with Biden’s own base.
Three new polls this week showed how views of the war have shifted since last month. And in all three, there’s evidence of Democrats souring in their views of Israel’s cause and conduct.
A Quinnipiac University poll in mid-October — shortly after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack — showed Democrats sympathized more with the Israelis (48 percent) than the Palestinians (22 percent). But a new Quinnipiac poll released Thursday showed that has flipped, with Democrats now sympathizing more with the Palestinians (41 percent to 34 percent).
The Economist/YouGov poll showed a similar if less drastic erosion in relative sympathy for Israel. It also showed a 2-to-1 advantage for Israel last month — 34 percent to 16 percent — but that has now fallen to just a 23-17 edge.
The Quinnipiac poll also showed Democrats disapproved of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack more than 2-to-1, 60 percent to 27 percent. And it showed the percentage of Democrats saying the United States is too supportive of Israel rising from 28 percent to 39 percent.
The YouGov poll also recorded a rise in the percentage of Democrats saying Israel’s response was “too harsh,” from 25 percent to 34 percent.
A similar question elicited an even bigger shift in a new NPR/PBS/Marist College poll. While last month 35 percent of Democrats said Israel’s response was “too much,” that number has now risen to a majority: 56 percent.
The Marist poll also showed Democrats’ approval of Biden on this issue dropping from 77 percent to 60 percent. Biden came out strongly in support of Israel early on and has mostly stuck to that, though he and his administration have moderated their tone somewhat in recent weeks and taken issue with certain actions by Israel.
There is a valid question here about whether this is truly responsive to events or rather more of a reversion to the mean. It’s possible we saw a temporary outpouring of support for Israel after it was attacked on Oct. 7, followed by people’s prior beliefs taking over.
For instance, while the post-Oct. 7 polls showed Democrats significantly more sympathetic to the Israelis, that was far different from what Gallup found early this year. Back then, for the first time in the 21st century, Gallup found Democrats more sympathetic to the Palestinians.
Indeed, even the latest polls show Democrats actually remain modestly more favorable to the Palestinians than that poll did.
While Biden certainly remains in Israel’s corner, he has also tacitly suggested some of that criticism is warranted. Even while defending the hospital raid this week, he called it “a different story than I believe was occurring before, an indiscriminate bombing.”
But the numbers reinforce what a political challenge this is for Biden. While Americans overall continue to side strongly with Israel, this issue has long divided the Democratic base more or less down the middle. And some of the groups least enthusiastic about Biden’s presidency and 2024 candidacy happen to be the same groups most aligned with the Palestinian cause — young people, African Americans and Hispanics.
Biden, a longtime supporter of Israel who last month called himself a “Zionist,” continues to try to thread that needle. But it’s getting no easier.