Here’s Why Young Voters Aren’t With Joe Biden!

Young people are increasingly turning away from President Joe Biden as his administration refuses to budge in its support for Israel despite its assault on Gaza killing tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians. Older Americans, in contrast, largely remain in support of Biden’s stance. This generational gap could cost him the election.

recent poll showed that 72 percent of voters ages eighteen to twenty-nine disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war. That is a higher percentage of young voters than those who disapproved of George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, Ronald Reagan’s wars in Central America, or even Richard Nixon’s war in Vietnam.

Another poll in December noted how eighteen to twenty-nine-year-olds sympathized more with Palestinians than Israelis, while those over sixty-five were seven times more likely to sympathize with Israelis. Similarly, while two-thirds of Americans over sixty-five thought it “very important” for the United States to support Israel, only 14 percent of those under thirty agreed. A poll this past week showed that only 38 percent of Americans eighteen to thirty-four have a positive view of Israel, as compared with 71 percent of those over fifty-five.

Perhaps even more than LGBTQ+ rights, there is no other political issue in which there is such a direct correlation between age and political attitude.

There are a number of reasons for this shift.

Younger Americans are more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, including a significantly larger population of Muslims than previous generations. People of color are more likely to identify withPalestinians against the predominantly white Israeli leadership. The younger generations also have a keener understanding of institutionalized racism, as exemplified in the Black Lives Matter uprising and movements for Indigenous rights. Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through those lenses, it is pretty hard to support Israel. Zionism, to many younger Americans, is seen as a settler-colonial project instead of a national liberation movement for Jews.

Another reason is that older Americans remember when Israel was led by social democrats who had created a relatively progressive society for its Jewish citizens, so it was easier to hide their racist and exclusionary policies. Israel provided its citizens with universal healthcare and a generous welfare program; many saw it as the Sweden of the Middle East. Socialist collective farms known as kibbutzimattracted idealistic volunteers from around the world, including Bernie Sanders and even Noam Chomsky. The ruling Labor Party was open to at least some territorial compromise, so they could claim it was the Arabs who were not interested in peace.

Younger Americans, by contrast, have only known Israel under rightwing leadership that categorically rules out a withdrawal from occupied territories. The government’s overt racism, implementation of what leading human rights groups refer to as a form or apartheid, colonization of the occupied West Bank, and savage repression of the Palestinian population have been the status quo for at least the last two decades.

While Israeli Jews have moved to the right, American Jews have been moving to the left, with nearly half of younger Jews believing that Biden is too supportive of Israel. As a result, it has become easier for non-Jews to be critical of Israel and U.S. policy without coming across as being motivated by antisemitism.

Yet another factor is that while older Americans get most of their news about the ongoing war in Gaza and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from mainstream media outlets, which still tend to somewhat favor the Israeli narrative, younger Americans increasingly get their news through TikTok and other social media, which more frequently relies on information directly from the source—including from Palestinians on the receiving end of the bombings.

Another point is that, unlike the first several decades of Israel’s existence when its support came from the liberal establishment, Israel’s biggest backers today are rightwing Republicans and Christian fundamentalists. Opposing U.S. support for Israel is now often perceived as part of the longstanding tradition of challenging U.S. support for other repressive rightwing governments engaging in war crimes in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere, rather than unfairly singling out the world’s only Jewish state.

Still, another shift is that we are getting further away from the Holocaust. The guilt surrounding the failure of the United States to prevent it or even allow fleeing Jewish refugees into the country weighed heavily on many older Americans. And while overt antisemitism still exists, it has become harder to justify and get away with. Despite Biden’s insistence that “were there no Israel, there wouldn’t be a Jew in the world who was safe,” most young Americans recognize that Jews are, in fact, relatively safe in the United States and most other democratic nations, so the need for an Israel—particularly at the expense of the Palestinians—is less persuasive.

Until recently, even among older U.S. progressives willing to criticize certain Israeli policies, Zionism was seen as a national liberation movement of an oppressed people. There was a recognition that all nationalist movements had both progressive and reactionary currents and that oppressive policies by a government did not necessarily negate their people’s national rights. The Zionist movement, like nationalist movements in Indochina, Southern Africa, and Latin America, were guilty of certain excesses but were still progressive manifestations of self-determination.

Not only has Israel’s rightward turn made it harder for younger Americans to appreciate such an analysis, but their conception of nationalism is very different than in previous decades when most nationalist struggles challenged colonialism and neocolonialism in the Global South. They see nationalism in the form of reactionary, chauvinistic, and racist movements like those that have emerged in post-Cold War Eastern Europe and elsewhere. And the kind of Zionism that dominates Israel today more closely resembles the latter than the former.

As a result of all the above, Biden’s strident support for the Israeli government, his opposition to an immediate and permanent ceasefire, his unwillingness to condition arms transfers to adherence to international humanitarian law, and his opposition to an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, has left younger voters significantly less likely to vote for him. His popularity among voters ages eighteen to thirty-four has declined by 18 percent, a rate twice that of older voters, to an abysmal 30 percent. This is all the more disturbing in light of the fact that younger voters have normally been far more likely to vote Democratic and voted overwhelmingly for Biden in 2020.

While few of these young anti-war voters will vote for Donald Trump, they are now far more likely to vote third party or not vote at all. The past several election cycles have revealed that youth turnout is critical. When it is high, Democrats win. When it is low, Democrats lose. Even those willing to vote for Biden may now be far less likely to donate money or do the important door-to-door campaigning and the get-out-the-vote efforts that rely on an army of young volunteers.

The alienation of young Democratic-leaning voters by Democratic nominees supporting unpopular wars has led to weak Republican candidates narrowly defeating them on three occasions—1968, 2004, and 2016. It appears that this could very well happen again. (Article Courtesy of Progressive Magazine)