WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly half of Democrats disapprove of how President Joe Biden is handling the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research — showing a deep divide within his party over the war.
The poll found 50% of Democrats approve of how Biden has navigated the conflict while 46% disapprove — and the two groups diverge substantially in their views of U.S. support for Israel. Biden’s support on the issue among Democrats is down slightly from August, as an AP-NORC poll conducted then found that 57% of Democrats approved of his handling of the conflict and 40% disapproved.
The Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed more than 1,400 people and Israel’s responding incursion into Gaza have created a political tightrope for Biden, who has supported Israeli sovereignty since the attack but also pressured Israel’s government to try to limit civilian casualties and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
The war could complicate Biden’s reelection effort as he faces having to balance factions of his party with very different views on the conflict and who is ultimately responsible.
Nearly 7 in 10 Democrats approving of Biden’s management of the conflict think the U.S. provides the right amount of support to Israel currently. Of those who disapprove, 65% say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel. That gap between Democrats who approve and those who disapprove has widened substantially since the poll conducted in August.
Of Democrats who approve of Biden’s handling of the conflict, 76% say Hamas has a lot of responsibility for the war and 32% say the same about the Israeli government, according to the AP-NORC poll taken this month. Democrats who disapprove of Biden’s handling of the conflict are equally likely to say that the Israeli government (56%) and Hamas (55%) have a lot of responsibility.
Majorities of Democrats younger than 45 (65%) and nonwhite Democrats (58%) say they disapprove of Biden’s handling of the conflict. Most Democrats 45 and older (67%) and white Democrats (62%) say they approve.
“Knowing that our tax money could be paying for the weapons that are murdering children by the thousands over there, it’s getting harder to be supportive of our president and our country in general,” said Brie Williamson, a 34-year-old Illinois resident. Williamson said she “couldn’t see voting for a Republican” but would consider other options next year.
But Kelly Taylor, a 52-year-old from Massachusetts, affirmed her support for Biden and his handling of the conflict.
“I think he’s doing the best any president could do given the situation,” she said.
The poll’s findings are the latest reflection of how the war has split Democrats in Washington and across the country.
More than 20 Democrats voted Tuesday to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, for her criticisms of Israel and invocation of a phrase that some Jewish groups say advocates for the destruction of Israel. Tlaib has said she wants a ceasefire in Gaza and called this week for “peaceful coexistence” between Israelis and Palestinians.
In South Florida, many Jews have lauded Biden’s support of Israel. Trump won Florida in 2020. In Michigan and Minnesota, both states that Biden won, well-known Democrats and members of large Arab and Muslim populations have spoken out against Biden.
To be sure, the conflict is intense enough to elicit strong opinions from people across the political spectrum.
“I’m as pro-Israel as anyone. They absolutely have a right to protect their interests,” said Florida voter John Montalvo, a 69-year-old who said he “leans” Democratic. Still, Montalvo added, “Palestinians have been living like prisoners since 1947,” referring to partitions of Palestinian settlements after World War II.
Opinions about Biden’s approach do not seem to affect Democrats’ support for establishing an independent Palestinian state. Biden, like his Republican and Democratic predecessors, has endorsed a “two-state solution,” though no American administration has made genuine strides toward such an accord.
About 4 in 10 Democrats overall say they favor the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that includes the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Yet both Biden’s ardent backers and his critics acknowledge the practical difficulties involved.
Montalvo, the Floridian who cheers Biden, said he “absolutely” supports a two-state agreement. But asked whether a Palestinian state should include Muslim sections of Jerusalem, he balked. “No,” he insisted. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
As Biden navigates war abroad and delicate politics at home, he may be left to hope that his Democratic critics are more like Peter Bennett, a 72-year-old from California who said he disapproved of Biden’s handling of the conflict and was distressed by what he called a “knee-jerk Israel-first perception in American politics.”
But Bennett was also clear about who he would vote for if next year’s election is a rematch of 2020.
“I want some real leadership here that I don’t think we’re getting,” he said. “But if it were a choice between Donald Trump and a stray dog, I’ll vote for the stray dog.”
The poll of 1,239 adults was conducted Nov. 2-6, 2023, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to represent the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Barrow reported from Atlanta.