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Pro-Palestinian rallies spread across college campuses. Is it an issue for Biden?

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A lot of young people seem angry with Joe Biden over his continued support for Israel's war in Gaza. Protests have spread to more than a dozen college campuses, and at Morehouse in Georgia, where President Biden is expected to deliver the commencement speech next month at graduation, a group of faculty and alumni want the school to rescind the invite. So how much will Biden's policy on Israel and Gaza actually impact his reelection campaign? Joining us to discuss this is Margie Omero. She's with the Democratic polling firm GBAO. Good morning, and welcome to the program.

MARGIE OMERO: Good morning.

FADEL: So how much of a central issue is the war in Gaza, and Biden's support for the war, to Democratic voters?

OMERO: Well, it's interesting when you look at - and this has been true in a variety of polls...

FADEL: Yeah.

OMERO: ...And this is true overall and with younger voters. When you ask people, what's the most important issue driving your vote, what's the most important issue important to you, or what's kind of a deal-breaker issue, what would prevent you from voting for somebody if you disagreed with them on this position, there are some things that are consistently at the top - the economy, abortion, democracy. For Republican voters, immigration is higher on the list, and the war in Israel and Gaza tends to be lower. It's a little bit higher with younger voters, but it's still in single digits. Whether this is looking at the Wall Street Journal poll or the Harvard IOP poll of younger adults, which came out recently, it's something that we see pretty consistently in the public polling.

FADEL: OK. For younger voters specifically, I wonder about that. I mean, I definitely know on the ground, I heard it a lot from younger voters, but in the polling, does it show that this is critical for their vote, and how critical are they for Biden's reelection bid?

OMERO: Well, for sure, younger voters are an important part of a Democratic coalition, and that's been true for a long time, and younger voters traditionally - this is not a new phenomenon - are a little bit less likely to vote. They are just learning about the democratic process, democratic meaning, you know, the voting process, and it's something that - you know, in one of the very first polls I worked on in the '90s, we were trying to predict what made someone a voter or a not voter, and we put in all these different variables, things like how alienated you felt from the government or, you know, whether you thought special interests had too much power, and the best predictor was age.

So this is not a new phenomenon, that younger voters feel a little disconnected sometimes from the political process, but younger voters for sure are an important part of the Biden coalition and I think that there's some work to be done there. And you can see in the polling, for example, in the Wall Street Journal poll about, do you think that Israel's actions have gone too far? A plurality say they've gone too far. A majority of voters under 30 say they've gone too far. That's a difference. It's not twice as much, but it is - you know, certainly younger voters are more active and engaged on this issue.

FADEL: Now, does Biden find himself in a bind in this issue? I mean, if he shifts policy on Israel, does that bring him some of these younger voters back or lose him other voters? I mean, what politically, when it comes to the election, would help his campaign?

OMERO: Well, I think there are a variety of things that the Biden campaign is going to continue to work on, one that's talking about things like student loans, talking about protecting abortion rights and the threat that is happening in states around the country, for example, in Arizona, and the Republicans who want to pass a national abortion ban and allow states to completely ban abortion. Student loan forgiveness is something I hear come up in almost every single focus group I do. For years, a couple years now, people have been talking about this. It's very salient for a lot of younger voters. And I think the other thing that's happening in New York right now - you have the Republican nominee on trial. That's something that is going to be - you know, people are going to continue to be engaged on as that unfolds.

FADEL: Based on the polling, is Biden's continued support for Israel's war in Gaza going to hurt him with Democratic voters because we do hear it a lot, especially from younger voters? I mean, how much of an impact will it have?

OMERO: Certainly, there are younger voters who say that this is their top issue, who are engaged on the issue. Ultimately, right now, the public polling shows that there are a single-digit percent of voters who say this is their top vote-driver...

FADEL: OK.

OMERO: ...Especially compared to things like inflation and abortion, the economy, cost of living, those types of issues.

FADEL: Margie Omero is with the Democratic polling firm GBAO. Margie, thanks.

OMERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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