“Betrayal”: Biden’s poll problems get much worse as progressive support plummets over Israel

"You cannot win this election by only telling our generation that you are the lesser of two evils," groups say

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published November 11, 2023 6:00AM (EST)

Joe Biden | Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters march down Market Street after a rally at the Civic Center in San Francisco, Calif., as part of an International Day of Solidarity with Palestine, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden | Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters march down Market Street after a rally at the Civic Center in San Francisco, Calif., as part of an International Day of Solidarity with Palestine, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden's staunch backing of Israel amid the growing crisis in Gaza is widening a seemingly cavernous left-wing divide over the war — potentially damaging his path to re-election.

As progressive groups decry the violence as genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and increasingly call for the Biden administration to press Israel for a permanent ceasefire — an action right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the White House have repeatedly rejected — a recent Gallup poll indicated that some liberal voters are growing disillusioned with the president's position. His approval rating among Democrats fell 11 points from 86 percent to 75 percent in the aftermath of Hamas' surprise incursion against Israeli civilians last month.

Israel's ongoing bombardment and invasion of Gaza, which was precipitated by Hamas' deadly Oct. 7 attack claiming the lives of at least 1,400 Israelis and seizing an estimated 240 hostages, has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians in the besieged territory, including thousands of children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, whose death toll estimates have been defended by non-governmental organizations despite criticism from the White House.

Forty-nine percent of Democrats disapprove of Israel's response to Hamas' attack compared to 33 percent who approve, according to a Quinnipiac poll from last week. The slim margin between the 49 percent of Democratic respondents who said they support sending more military aid and the 43 percent who said they don't points to the fissure ripping through the party.

The rising death toll of Palestinians in the territory, which has had water, food and internet access cut off by Israel and had access to humanitarian aid significantly curtailed throughout the month-long war, coupled with Biden's plea to send billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, has even prompted some progressive voters to declare that they will withdraw their support from the Democrat in 2024 as long as he fails to advocate for a general ceasefire. 

Muslim and Arab Americans have led that charge as many grow increasingly upset with his refusal. For those constituents, it feels as though the massive Palestinian death toll and likely thousands of those who haven't been recovered are "not deemed to be a factor" in the president's unwavering support of Israel, said Robert McCaw, the government affairs department director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In a statement to ABC News, Biden campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa sought to highlight his outreach and extend support to Muslim and Arab American communities amid their calls. The president "knows the importance of earning the trust of every community, of upholding the sacred dignity and rights of all Americans," Moussa said, adding that Biden is continuing to work closely with Muslim and Palestinian leaders in America to listen and defend them. 

But nothing short of the Biden administration advocating for a complete ceasefire will appeal to the Muslim community, McCaw insisted.

"Countless American Muslims feel as though the Biden administration is not listening to our heartfelt concerns for the well-being of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank," McCaw told Salon, adding: "Muslims are upset that the president would fund Israel's war machine in Gaza with taxpayer dollars while only speaking to humanitarian pauses, and getting access to more humanitarian aid."

A recent poll of 2,200 registered Muslim voters in key states, including Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin, from Emgage, a Muslim-voter mobilization group, paints a clearer picture of how far Muslim Americans' threat to ditch Biden in 2024 resonates: 5.2 percent of respondents said they would vote for the Democrat if they had to cast their presidential ballots now, plummeting from the 80 percent who said they voted for Biden in 2020.

Instead, according to Emgage National Organizing Director Mohamed Gula, 15 percent of the polled voters said they would vote for former President Donald Trump while 53 percent indicated they'd cast their vote for a third party, the latter value up from just 4 percent who said they had voted third-party in 2020. 

Those results align with a parallel poll from the Arab American Institute last week that found Arab American voters' support of Biden in 2024 dropped to just 17 percent in the wake of the violence in Gaza from 59 percent in 2020. The number of those identifying as Democrats also took a hit at 23 percent compared to the 32 percent who identified as Republican, marking the first time in the 26-year-old poll's history that a majority of Arab voters did not claim to prefer the Democratic Party. 

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Many Muslim and Arab voters used to swing Republican but shifted their allegiance to Democrats as Islamophobic rhetoric became a fixture of the GOP post-9/11 that was later culminated in then-President Trump's 2017 Muslim ban, which he has said he plans to implement again if re-elected, according to NBC News. From there, those voters rallied behind the Democratic Party in response to Trump's election, running for office, voting and organizing in congressional districts in and ahead of the 2018 midterms to aid in Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives and, again in 2020, to help secure Biden's electoral win, Gula told Salon. 

"We locked arms, and we ensured that we kind of folded into the Democratic Party to ensure that there's a space in the current political environment. This was a space that we were starting to call home," Gula said, noting that, though Emgage initially endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2020, it later endorsed primary-winner Biden because its constituents connected with his proposed policy positions pertaining to Muslim and Arab people and the rights of Palestinians. 

"What we're seeing now is the feeling of betrayal around those promises being broken but also a culmination of these past ... seven years of us building together only to be betrayed on how the Biden administration had decided to handle this crisis," he added. 

While Muslims only make up 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin — swing states key to Biden's 2020 electoral win — boast significant enough Muslim-voter populations for them to be, in theory, capable of swinging the outcome of the election, according to NBC News. In Georgia, for example, where Biden won in 2020 by about 12,000 votes, the nongovernmental U.S. Religion Census, which is run by a coalition of religious institutions and other nonprofits, estimated that there were 123,000 Muslim adherents in the state, including people ineligible to vote due to age or citizenship status.  

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But Biden's Israel-Hamas response threatens to pull a wider array of potential voters from his base as his favorability rating among voters under age 35 hit 25 percent in a mid-October Quinnipiac poll, an alarming figure when considering how a higher youth turnout in 2020 — in tandem with youth of colors' overwhelming support for Biden that election — was pivotal to his win. The same poll also saw 50 percent of voters under the age of 35 disapproving of Biden's handling of the nation's policy toward Israel and 44 percent disapproving of his response to the Hamas attack, compared to 21 percent and 23 percent of those in that age range who did approve, respectively. 

National youth organization leaders authored and signed a letter to Biden on Tuesday, warning of the potential for millions of young voters to stay home or vote third-party in 2024 if he doesn't "broker a ceasefire, now," and "revive the peace process."

"You cannot win this election by only telling our generation that you are the lesser of two evils. The position of your administration is badly out of step with young people and the positions of Democratic voters, whom have been shown to support a ceasefire by supermajorities in multiple polls," wrote a handful of directors and advisors from March for Our Lives, GenZ for Change, Sunrise Movement and United We Dream Action. "This is already becoming an issue we are hearing about from thousands of young people across the country. We cannot explain your position to the people of our generation."

Organizers on the ground for GenZ for Change have expressed that it's hard to mobilize and convince community members to support candidates that are aiding the crisis in the Middle East and "the human rights violations that are being committed," Anish Mohanty, the communications director of GenZ for Change, formerly known as Tiktok for Biden, told Salon. 

The split over the crisis in Gaza has reverberations in Congress where 22 Democrats joined Republicans in voting to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the only Palestinian American in the chamber, over remarks she made after Hamas attacked Israel. The resolution to censure Tlaib, proposed by Rep. Rich McCormick, R-Ga., accused her of having "defended" terrorist organizations and followed a separate censure of Tlaib last week from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., whose measure the House struck down.

"The fact Rashida Tlaib was censured in Congress is appalling. It's just appalling," Wassim Malas, the executive director of Wisconsin Muslim Alliance, told Salon. "So if they can censure our elected officials, how does the private citizen feel?"

Muslim community members in Wisconsin, the only one of six crucial battleground states Biden is leading over Trump per a Sunday New York Times/Siena poll, are torn over whether to seek reconciliation with the Democratic Party or disengage from it altogether as they grapple with Biden's apparent refusal to meet their demands for a ceasefire, Malas said.

For his part, Biden has pushed for humanitarian pauses in the war to facilitate the movement of vital aid into Gaza and hostages out. Israel on Thursday said it agreed to four-hour daily pauses after talks with the United States. That process requires a complex system that ensures maximum aid delivery and hostage security, while preventing Hamas from taking advantage, a National Security Council spokesperson told Salon. The administration, however, does not support calls for a permanent ceasefire in the territory, the spokesperson added, citing Israel's right and obligation to defend itself against Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S., in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law. 

Asked about the pushback from liberal Democrats accusing voters of pushing the 2024 election into Trump's hands by choosing not to vote for Biden, Malas questioned why his stance is considered so controversial. 

"Ever since I was a kid, I've heard our elders say, 'We will vote for the lesser of two evils.' We've been doing that every four years, it seems, and right now, I think we've been left with nothing but evil choices," Malas said, adding, "Why is it so controversial to stand up to the killing of women and children? This is not a controversial stance to take. The American people see that. Congress does not see that. And we do not wish for violence. We wish for peace and peaceful resolutions that address injustices."

While it's too early to tell exactly how this year's polls will measure up to the results of the 2024 general election a year from now — polls this far out are often wrong in the grand scheme — the extended timeline is all the more reason why Biden and Democratic leaders should prioritize appealing to voters enraged by the violence in the Middle East now, Gula said.

"Many strategists and many people have consistently said that there is a year until the general election. My response to that is that there is a year for people — for candidates who want the vote. They have a year to come to the Muslim community with just policies in recognition of Palestinian rights," Gula told Salon, echoing Malas' call for justice. "It's as simple as that."

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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2024 Election Gaza Israel Joe Biden Palestine Politics Reporting