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Dem fears mount amid Biden’s polling slump and Israel backlash

Fears are growing paramount among Democrats over President Joe Biden’s standing one year out of the 2024 election.

And within the party, there are emerging concerns that his support for Israel in its war against Hamas is weakening him among key parts of his party’s base.

Americans’ attitudes are shifting quickly about the conflict, and a lot could change between now and next November. But as Israel batters Gaza in response to the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ Oct. 7 bloody attack, Biden’s Democratic Party is fracturing over the war.

A series of New York Times polls released Sunday is likely to supercharge the worries among some Democrats about the political fallout from Biden’s handling of the conflict. Those polls showed Biden trailing former President Donald Trump in five of six battleground states among registered voters.

According to the surveys, swing-state voters have serious misgivings about Biden’s management of the economy — typically much more important to voters than world affairs — as well as his age. But foreign policy is also a weak spot for Biden, and some Democrats think it is exacerbating Biden’s other vulnerabilities, especially among young and non-white voters.

The Times polls show registered voters in the battleground states trust Trump over Biden on managing the Israel-Palestinian conflict by a margin of 11 percentage points. Voters under 30 years old, much like the broader electorate, prefer Trump to manage the issue by 10 points. And those swing-state voters under 30 are only backing Biden by a single percentage point, per the Times surveys. Comparatively, Biden carried young voters by 24 points nationally in 2020, according to exit polls.

Biden’s standing is slightly better among likely voters in the Times poll, as opposed to registered voters, perhaps because some Americans frustrated with the president would sit out the race. For instance, Biden is behind Trump in four of six states with likely voters, and likely voters under age 30 support Biden by 6 points.

But even with the slightly better voter screen, the results still paint a bleak picture for the president.

“How could [the war] not have an impact on how people, especially young Americans, think about themselves, their president and the country?” said John Della Volpe, the polling director at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics who advised Biden’s 2020 campaign team and remains a trusted outside voice for the White House. “To suggest otherwise I think is a misreading of what young people have been telling us for years is what drives them to serve and to vote, which is to protect vulnerable people.”

The New York Times poll on Sunday set off a familiar wave of panic and dismissal among Biden’s — and the war’s — most vocal defenders. Bill Kristol, a prominent foreign policy hawk, called on Biden to announce that he wouldn’t run again in 2024. David Frum, who has traveled a similar path to Kristol, noted that former President Barack Obama was underwater in 2011 before winning reelection.

But there are clear distinctions between the current political landscape now and one that existed a dozen years ago.

Among them is the situation in Gaza.

In recent days, Muslim and Arab American leaders have warned top Biden aides that the president’s wartime policies could hurt him in 2024 among voters in their communities and allied progressives. Though they make up a small part of the electorate nationally, Arab American voters can be a critical voting bloc in close elections in particular in the swing state of Michigan.

Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of the Muslim advocacy group Emgage, said his group and others have relayed their concerns directly to the Biden campaign. He said he is not worried about Muslim voters casting a ballot for Trump — who has embraced the reinstitution and expansion of a so-called Muslim ban — but rather sitting out the race entirely.

“These numbers reflect the communities who are opposed to the handling of this war. … I absolutely believe they’ve lost progressives. They’ve lost young people. They’ve lost probably a good chunk of the Black community, and like as of this moment, the entire Arab-Muslim community,” he said. “We’re 12 months away, so it’s hard to know where they’re going to be, but this is a snapshot of where the country is right now.”

The Biden campaign downplayed the idea that the Times poll represented a harbinger of electoral doom to come, pushing out variations of Frum’s comparison to Obama.

“Predictions more than a year out tend to look a little different a year later. Don’t take our word for it: Gallup predicted an eight-point loss for President Obama only for him to win handedly a year later,” said Kevin Munoz, a campaign spokesperson. “Or a year out from the 2022 midterms when every major outlet similarly predicted a grim forecast for President Biden. … We’ll win in 2024 by putting our heads down and doing the work, not by fretting about a poll.”

In general, Biden’s team has expressed confidence that the American public supports the president’s embrace of Israel. His aides also argue that Biden has for years been an advocate for Arab and Muslim Americans, including in recent weeks, when he has condemned Islamophobia and begun leaning on Israel to use restraint in its Gaza campaign.

Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is among those who recently called for “humanitarian pauses” to allow more food, water and medicine into Gaza, something that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected.

But some Democrats remain worried. Waleed Shahid, a progressive Democratic strategist who has been highly critical of Biden’s approach to the war, said that many voters already had concerns about the president’s age that they were willing to put aside because they supported his legislative accomplishments tackling climate change and providing Covid-19 relief.

“But Biden’s funding of Netanyahu’s relentless bombing campaign disturbs younger voters and voters of color on a core values level,” he said. “The election is looking more and more like 2016, where Democrats as the incumbent party will have to work hard to persuade their own voters rather than just tell us how awful the other guy is.”

A progressive strategist who worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and was granted anonymity to speak freely, said the New York Times polls “should be a four-alarm fire” for the Biden campaign.

“They not only need to win young voters, they need to get them excited,” the person added. “These voters are concerned about Palestinian life and the ongoing war and the administration’s current response will only move them further away from the president.”

But not all Democrats are worried that Biden’s approach to the war could have an impact on 2024.

Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.), who represents Detroit, said, “The most vital thing for Muslim Americans, and all Americans, to remember is that while Joe Biden is using his power and influence to steady Israel’s response and save Palestinian lives, his predecessor wasted no opportunity to target Muslims in as many dehumanizing ways as possible.” He added, “I’m confident my constituents will remember that when the time comes.”

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