Young people disapprove of Biden’s Israel policy. It may not mean much for November.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of New York Police Department officers entered Columbia University and the City College of New York to remove protestors who had set up encampments and taken over administrative buildings in opposition to Israel's conduct in its conflict against Hamas, U.S. military support for Israel and colleges' investments in companies tied to Israel — just one in a series of clashes on college campuses across the country that have captured the attention of the media and the public.

Scenes of left-leaning collegiate protestors upset with President Joe Biden for his continued support for Israel — even as he's become more critical of its operations — and the lack of a ceasefire have raised the prospect that the Israel-Hamas conflict could significantly hurt Biden's support among younger voters in the 2024 presidential election. Some early general election polling suggests that Biden's edge among younger voters has either diminished substantially or even vanished altogether in his rematch against former President Donald Trump. Considering younger voters have routinely preferred Democrats by substantial margins in recent years, such trends could be a dire threat to Biden's reelection hopes.

Although it's easy to connect these numbers to anger over the conflict in the Middle East, the Israel-Hamas conflict probably isn't the principal driver of Biden's loss in support among young people. Polls have found that young people care about other issues a great deal more than what's happening in the Middle East, so the issue that's roiling college campuses isn't necessarily representative of larger concerns.

In fact, it's likely that Biden's drop in support has more to do with the public's broad dissatisfaction with his presidency and his handling of other issues rather than a concern that's specific to young voters (like their more negative attitudes about the war). Still, whatever the cause, a drop in support and/or turnout among young voters would very likely hurt Biden's reelection chances, even though they won't actually make up that large a share of the electorate in 2024.

Young Americans are most critical of Israel

It's certainly true that polls have shown that young people are more likely to hold negative views about Israel — and U.S. support for Israel — than older Americans are. Take a late February survey by the Pew Research Center that had a very large sample size, which theoretically gave it a more representative pool of 18- to 29-year-olds (normally a difficult group to survey). On a host of questions, this youngest cohort of adults was more likely than their older counterparts to believe that the way Israel was responding to Hamas's attack had been unacceptable, to oppose the U.S. providing military aid to Israel, to view Biden's policies as too favorable toward Israel, to feel that Hamas had valid reasons for fighting Israel and to have at least somewhat more sympathy for Palestinians than Israelis.

This is not to say that most young people exhibited fervent anti-Israel views or that they favored Hamas. Overall, 21 percent of those aged 18 to 29 sympathized equally with both Israelis and Palestinians, compared with 33 percent who felt more sympathy for Palestinians and 14 percent for Israelis. And while a slight plurality of young people (34 percent) felt Hamas had valid reasons for fighting in this conflict, a slight plurality (38 percent) also felt that Israel had valid reasons for fighting. Plus, all age groups overwhelmingly said that the way Hamas carried out its attack on Oct. 7 was unacceptable — it's just that those aged 18 to 29 were most likely (35 percent of them) to say that both sides had behaved in an unacceptable fashion.

Still, other surveys back up the notion that younger Americans hold strong feelings about the situation in Israel. The Harvard Youth Poll, conducted in March by the school's Institute of Politics, found that 51 percent of those aged 18 to 29 supported a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, a policy long supported by some progressive Democrats in Congress but one that will be difficult to achieve. Harvard's survey also found that more young Americans viewed Israel's response to Hamas's attack as unjustified than justified (32 percent to 21 percent), though almost half said they weren't sure. Still, nearly equal majorities felt sympathy for the Israeli and Palestinian people caught in this conflict (52 percent versus 56 percent).

The findings were similar in more recent national surveys of all Americans or registered voters, albeit ones that had smaller sample sizes of young people — and therefore a higher margin of error. A March survey from Gallup found that 55 percent of Americans overall disapproved of Israel's military action in Gaza, with 63 percent of those aged 18 to 34 disapproving. An April 28-30 YouGov/The Economist survey found those aged 18 to 29 were more likely to say they sympathized more with Palestinians (32 percent) than with Israelis (13 percent; 26 percent said they sympathized with both about equally) — making them the only age group to clearly sympathize more with Palestinians. The same poll also found that 39 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds felt Israel's military response had been too harsh, higher than any other age group.

But Israel-Gaza isn't a top priority for younger Americans

For all the focus on college campus protests, however, the conflict in Israel doesn't actually rate that highly as an important issue to most young Americans. To identify which issues young Americans viewed as most important, the Harvard Youth Poll randomly gave respondents different pairs of issues and asked them which was more important to them. Using that approach, the survey found that, much like Americans overall, young people are most worried about economic or economic-adjacent issues: Fifty-three percent or more rated inflation, jobs, housing and health care as more important than other issues. But only 34 percent rated "Israel/Palestine" as more important than other issues, which ranked it second to last — notably topping only student debt, another much-talked-about issue.

Interestingly, the importance of Israel/Palestine among 18- to 29-year-olds didn't differ much between those who said they were currently college students — who are the ones mainly involved in protests — and those who weren't in college or had already graduated. Among college students, 35 percent said Israel/Palestine was more important than other issues, compared with 33 percent of those not in college and 36 percent of those who already had a college degree. Even among young Democrats, the party whose members are most opposed to Israel's actions and further military funding, just 37 percent said it was a more important issue.

Other polling has also found younger Americans don't view this as an especially important issue for their vote in 2024. Bloomberg and Morning Consult have collaborated this cycle to survey registered voters in seven swing states, which has included asking respondents if an issue will be important to their choice in November. Their April poll of swing-state voters found just 59 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds in swing states rated the Israel-Hamas war as very or somewhat important to their vote.

That figure might sound high at first blush, but it was essentially tied for last place among the issues polled with the Russia-Ukraine war (58 percent). By contrast, a whopping 95 percent rated the economy as important, and around 90 percent said the same for each of crime, education, health care and housing. The story was similar among adult Generation Z voters, who are about 18 to 27 years old (so most of the 18-29 group). Sixty-three percent rated the Israel-Hamas war as important to their vote, but this ranked above only the Russia-Ukraine war as a top concern. And when asked what issue was most important to deciding their vote, just 3 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds and 4 percent of Gen Z voters named the Israel-Hamas conflict.

If other issues are more salient, then it's likely that Biden's deteriorating support among young people has more to do with broader dissatisfaction with his handling of the presidency than the Israel-Hamas conflict specifically. The president's overall job approval rating in 538's tracker is about 40 percent, while his disapproval rating is 56 percent. Poll after poll has found Americans, including young people, clearly disapprove of his performance as president.

Those same surveys also find Biden well underwater on his handling of major issues like the economy, inflation and immigration, whether we're talking about attitudes among all Americans or just younger ones. This is not to say that Biden's handling of the Israel situation isn't a contributing factor — he polls quite poorly there, too, and voters can care about multiple issues — but it's likely playing at least second fiddle to other concerns.

Young voters will matter to the election outcome — but they alone can't save Biden

When it comes to the impending Biden-Trump rematch, young voters' polling numbers have a Choose Your Own Adventure quality to them. Results in national surveys conducted by well-regarded pollsters have been all over the place, with some showing Biden ahead among young voters, the two candidates running about even or Trump holding a small edge. For most national surveys, one challenge is that the sample size of young voters is relatively small, meaning it will be less reliable.

It's perhaps not a coincidence, then, that recent national surveys with larger samples of young people — from the Harvard Youth Poll and the Pew Research Center — found Biden more clearly ahead among 18- to 29-year-olds: Among young registered voters, Harvard's early March poll found Biden up 50 percent to 37 percent (56 percent to 37 percent among likely voters), while Pew's early April survey found Biden ahead 59 percent to 38 percent.

However, the Harvard poll also found that Biden's edge dropped if third-party candidates like Robert Kennedy Jr. were included. And both of these polls also suggested that newer entrants into the electorate — those who didn't vote in 2020, often because they weren't old enough yet — appear less averse to backing Trump. In the Harvard poll, Biden led by a smaller margin among those aged 18 to 24 than those aged 25 to 29. In Pew's survey, registered voters who didn't vote in 2020 (including those too young to vote in 2020) split about evenly for Trump and Biden.

Whatever the actual truth is, polling broadly suggests that Biden is doing worse among young people than he did in 2020, which is undoubtedly a threat to his reelection chances. Younger voters have consistently voted more Democratic since the 2004 presidential election, and in 2020, they voted for Biden by around 25 percentage points, depending on the survey. Considering Biden's narrow margins of victory in key swing states, losing support among young people would be pretty bad news for him. As one scenario in 538's Swing-O-Matic interactive demonstrates, an increase in third-party voting and a drop in turnout among young people would potentially put Trump over the top by flipping Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, holding 2020 levels of support among other groups equal.

Yet even if Biden were able to make a recovery with young voters, that doesn't mean he'd necessarily win the election. Currently, Trump leads Biden by less than 1 point in 538's national polling average. But Biden trails Trump in our averages for each of the important swing states by varying margins. All of this reflects a larger problem for Biden among voters beyond just young people.

Plus, younger voters are the smallest part of the electorate by age. This is due in part to their tendency to turn out at a much lower rate than older voters. Based on calculations by political scientist Michael McDonald at the University of Florida Election Lab, about 53 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds eligible to vote turned out in 2020, the highest mark in modern times but a fair bit lower than that year's overall 66 percent turnout rate (a modern record). Moreover, voters aged 18 to 29 made up only about 16 percent of all 2020 voters, and the highest percentage they've made up in the past few decades was 18 percent in 1992.


We're still about six months from the election, which means there is a lot of time for future events to shift Americans' attitudes about the 2024 election. But younger Americans' reduced willingness to support Biden stems from a dissatisfaction much broader than his response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. And while the students protesting on college campuses may be getting the lion's share of the attention, it's the millions of other young voters from whom Biden has more to worry about.

Young people disapprove of Biden’s Israel policy. It may not mean much for November. originally appeared on