The 2024 Presidential election in the United States (US) is coming soon and it seems that it will be a close race. The period of time leading up to the elections poses a lot of questions for both political parties, but particularly the Democrats, who as Professor Ron Elving from the American University explains, are facing a very “familiar…unity problem”. Lately, party members have had a hard time agreeing on most subjects, including policy measures and their main strategies to beat the Republican party in upcoming elections. This could be seen during the 2022 Midterms as well as the California race to succeed the recently deceased Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat). However, the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas could potentially present a ground for unity within the party and bring growing support for President Biden looking up to the elections.
According to polls conducted by CNN/SSRS and Quinnipiac University in early October, the American public tends to support and sympathize more with Israel than Palestine across all political alignments. In fact, 78% of Republican voters, 68% of Independents and 67% of Democrats responded that they feel a lot of sympathy towards Israel, while just 13% of registered voters answered that their sympathies lie more with Palestine. Furthermore, over 70% of Americans indicated that Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack (as of October 26) was entirely or partially justified. Finally, 84% of Republican voters and 76% of Democrats see the active support of Israel to be in the US’ national interests.
Alongside the general support for Israel, the American public has also shown a great deal of confidence in President Biden regarding his decisions on Israel, a significant issue considering his low approval ratings on most other aspects. While this is subject to change based on ongoing developments, most American voters, and particularly Democrats, agree with Biden’s approach to the conflict, as CNN’s Harry Enten points out. Actually, more voters agree with Biden’s response to Hamas’ attack (42% of voters) and his overall approach to Israel (42%) than disapprove of them, with just 37% and 39% of voters disapproving, respectively. Additionally, the CNN/SSRS poll shows that 80% of Democrats, 46% of Independents and 13% of Republicans have great or moderate trust in Biden to make the right decision. While these numbers are fairly similar to trust in Biden’s ability to deal with crisis when his presidency began, they are considerably higher among Independent voters compared to trust levels regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine which began in February 2022, going from 37% to 46% of voters trusting the President. This increase in support and trust from Independent voters could prove determinant for Biden’s results in the upcoming presidential elections.
Furthermore, various experts, such as CNN’s Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten and acclaimed journalist Ronald Brownstein believe that Biden finds a particular strength, guided by his many years of experience as an American politician, when discussing crises such as the situations in Israel or Ukraine. This has, in fact, proven beneficial for the President’s approval ratings, as he has a +5 and +3 percentage point net approval on both crises. Both these numbers are incredibly high compared to his overall approval of -18 percentage points. Thus, working on ongoing conflicts such as these, as long as he is moderately successful, will greatly help the presidential aspirations of the Democrats and Biden.
Additionally, supporting Israel in the war could improve Biden’s support from Jewish voters and campaign investors. According to a poll conducted by the American Jewish Community, in the 2021 Presidential election, 68% of American Jews voted for the Democrat candidate over Donald Trump. Additionally, due to Trump’s recent comments about the Lebanon-based militia group and Israel’s enemy Hezbollah, where he called them “very smart”, as well as Biden’s ongoing support for Israel, it seems like support for Biden among Jewish voters will be maintained or even raised. Additionally, supporting Israel in the conflict will help the Democrat party sustain some of their biggest donors, many of which are Jewish or Israel sympathisers. This could be seen in the recent remarks made by Haim Saban, one of the party’s biggest donors, who thanked the President for his approach and pledged to continue supporting him, as well as the “thank you letter” sent to the president from various A-list celebrities.
While Biden’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is garnering support from Jewish Americans, it may not be doing the same with the country’s Muslim voters. It is estimated that, during the 2020 presidential elections 1.1 million Muslims and 4.6 million Jews cast their votes. As previously stated, 68% of Jewish voters supported Biden, alongside 69% of Muslim voters. However, given Biden’s decisions on the conflict, particularly his recent trip to Israel and meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, many American Muslims are reconsidering their support for the president. As Hani J. Bawardi, a professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said: many young American Muslims are thinking about changing their votes for the upcoming elections and will, most likely, vote for a third independent candidate, as happened in the 2000 elections with Ralph Nader. While this is obviously something that will not help Biden’s presidential aspirations, the extent to which it will damage his campaign, especially considering the number of Jewish voters, is hard to assess. Similarly, whether this will ultimately help Trump (or whoever the Republican candidate is) and whether Biden will change his approach to try to retain some Mulsim support, still remains to be seen.
In addition to raising Biden’s approval ratings among most Americans, the conflict in Gaza has proven successful in bringing about some form of unity within the majority of the Democratic Party, as mentioned previously. While not everyone has acknowledged this, with some Republican-affiliated media outlets such as Fox News claiming that Democrats have thrown “fits of rage” towards each other as a result of the conflict, Democrat lawmakers themselves have noticed the positive shift towards unity within the party. Founder and president of the Democratic Majority for Israel, Mark Mellman, for example, explained his pleasant surprise by the shift in union within the Democratic Party observed since the conflict began. Mellman remarked that there are “people that last week would be considered Israel critics standing up at rallies with the pro-Israel community condemning Hamas”, further exemplifying this claim with the condemnation of Hamas by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a long-time critic of Israel. So, while there are still some disagreements within the Democratic party on how best to respond to the conflict, the majority of the party has shown signs of unifying behind their leader as he shows military and political support towards Israel. This unification, as Medina and Lerer argue, will prove important as they attempt to counter Republican presidential hopefuls such as Donald Trump and Ron de Santis.
Despite this positive shift, numerous experts and journalists have expressed their concerns over the possibility of Biden’s current decisions regarding Israel backfiring towards him, and the United States in general. For example, Adam Shapiro, director of advocacy for Israel-Palestine at the Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) group, has vocalized his concerns about the possibility that the lack of a clear objective from the American and Israeli governments regarding the conflict, will eventually come back to harm American interests. While Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have repeatedly stated that the US has no intention of putting “boots on the ground”, foreign policy experts have argued that if the crisis were to escalate into a regional conflict involving states such as Lebanon and Iran, who have already targeted some American military facilities in the region, the US might have no option but to intervene. This possible intervention, they claim, would be catastrophic to American interests and Democrats’ hopes of winning the presidency. Thus, in Hoffman’s words, the Biden administration has no option but to “pray that this doesn’t spiral into a broader regional conflict”.
As long as that does not happen, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East could continue to prove helpful in unifying the Democratic party and gaining further support for Biden. As it stands right now, Biden’s approval ratings, mostly due to the conflict and Donald Trump’s criminal charges, are higher than the Republican candidate by a 2% margin (before the conflict started, Trump had that advantage). Seeing as next year’s race will, most likely, be highly contested and close, Biden definitely needs as many support boosters as he can get and, thus far, the war in Israel has helped him there.
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