by Brian Garvey
President Joe Biden is not doing well in the polls. Alarm bells went off for supporters of the president when a New York Times/Siena poll conducted between Oct. 22 to Nov. 3 showed the president is losing to former President Donald Trump in several key states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia. In the following weeks, further polling confirmed that those worries were justified. Emerson and Morning Consult polls have since shown President Biden losing to Donald Trump in all of these states, plus Wisconsin. Any candidate who hopes to win the presidency in 2024 will need to win these key races. What’s more, surveys conducted in the past 2 weeks by Harvard, YouGov, Fox, Quinnipiac, and more all show Biden losing to Trump in the national popular vote.
So, with Biden’s support clearly eroding, the question is, why? One reason is certainly current events. The starkest development in the last two months has, of course, been the war in Gaza. Unsurprisingly, President Biden’s policies on Palestine and Israel are having a large effect on his popularity within the Arab-American community. According to Reuters, “Arab American support for Biden, at 59% in 2020, fell even before the outbreak of violence in the Middle East to 35%, the poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute showed, but has halved since.” This could have a huge impact on the key battleground state of Michigan. In 2020, 145,000 Muslim-Americans came out to vote in Michigan. Biden won that state by 155,000 votes.
It’s easy to say that another 4 years of President Donald Trump would be worse for the Palestinians. He has been openly criticizing President Biden for not supporting Israel enough. As president, Trump oversaw the relocation of the American-Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. He implemented an openly islamophobic “Muslim ban” preventing people from Middle Eastern countries from entering the US. He’s promised that if he returns to the White House, he will reimplement and expand that policy. But Donald Trump isn’t currently sitting in the Oval Office. Mr. Biden is.
Right now Arab-Americans are seeing a president they overwhelmingly supported in 2020 endorse an attack on their people in 2023. He’s supporting massive civilian casualties with US taxpayer money, including money from these voters. Many of them have family or friends who have been killed or wounded or made homeless from the recent war in Gaza. Scolding them about how much worse Donald Trump is than Joe Biden isn’t likely to work either. Even if it did, voters don’t need to cast a vote for Donald Trump to deny President Biden a second term. They could do so just by staying home on election day. Enthusiasm matters.
But the numbers are not confined to the Arab-American community, or to the issue of the war in Gaza. An NBC news poll says that 62% now disapprove of Biden’s handling of foreign policy generally. While 47% of all voters find Israel’s actions as “justified” and only 30% think Israel has “gone too far,” that number is reversed among self declared Democrats. A majority of Biden’s party thinks that Israel has gone too far while only 27% think that its actions against Gaza are justified. The question of whether to send more US weapons to Israel splits the Democratic party, with 49% opposed.
Especially concerning are the recent numbers from young voters. 70% of young people, according to that same poll, disapprove of Biden’s position on the Israel-Hamas war. Only 20% support him on this issue. But that’s only one issue, right? Unfortunately for the president, no. A new poll released on November 19th shockingly found that President Biden is now losing among young voters, territory where he trounced Trump in 2020. Currently, “Trump holds a slight advantage within the margin of error in the survey among voters ages 18 to 34 (46% to 42%).” For President Biden that’s a recipe for disaster. Without young voters (a key demographic for the Democratic Party) on his side, the president’s 2024 prospects aren’t bright.
Polls also show that the majority of the American people support a ceasefire in Gaza. “Some 68% of respondents in the Reuters/Ipsos poll said they agreed with a statement that ‘Israel should call a ceasefire and try to negotiate.’” It’s easy to see why. Recent casualty reports from the Gaza Health Ministry state that over 14,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military. About 10,000 of those killed are women and children. Even so, President Biden continues to push for more US weapons transfers to Israel with less restrictions.
And Gaza is not the only foreign policy issue where President Biden has come up empty for his supporters. Promises to return to the Obama policy of normalization with Cuba have not been honored. A stay the course policy on supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion is losing popularity as the war has settled into a bloody stalemate. The pledge to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal that opened direct diplomatic relations between the US and Iran, was not fulfilled. That last one would be especially helpful as tensions rise in the Middle East.
On the whole President Biden’s approval ratings are at an all time low. However, in spite of this perceived dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden, there’s no clear opposition to his candidacy within the Democratic Party. The same applies to former President Donald Trump. There’s no clear challenger to either in the primary process. Both Biden and Trump hold huge leads over any rivals within their own parties, regularly polling over 50 points ahead in primary poll matchups. Unless something dramatic occurs, like a withdrawal, serious health incident, or a criminal sentence, 2024 is almost certainly going to be a rematch of 2020.
There are many reasons to explain Biden’s troublesome poll numbers. Not all of them are fair. Republican control of the House of Representatives is making it more difficult for President Biden to advance his agenda. Biden isn’t getting any younger and concerns about his age aren’t going anywhere either. Economic pain is generally blamed on the sitting president, whether or not he deserves them. 78% of the American public say the country is going in the wrong direction. That’s not all Joe Biden’s fault.
But here’s the bottom line: before the Hamas attacks of October 7th and the subsequent Israeli attack on Gaza President Biden and Donald Trump were running neck and neck in national polls. Now Biden is consistently under water.
Presidents almost always find that foreign policy is the area where they have the most ability to make change. If Joe Biden wants to turn things around, his role as Commander in Chief is the place where he can have the greatest impact. The recent hostage exchanges and resulting 4 day ceasefire in Gaza, which has now been extended through Wednesday November 29th, could provide an opportunity for the Biden Administration to listen to the will of the American people and pivot to peace.
Over two-thirds of the voters want a cease-fire and negotiations to end the war in Gaza. In a democracy it pays to give the people what they want.