Biden isn’t embracing campus protests. It’s not just because he’s staunchly pro-Israel.

Business Insider 

Biden addressing campus protests over Israel at the White House on Thursday.

Joe Biden has tried to stake out a middle ground as protests spread across college campuses.Polling shows that the protests are unpopular.At the same time, Biden needs to keep his coalition of voters intact to win reelection.

As protests against Israel’s war in Gaza have popped up on college campuses nationwide — at times devolving into chaos and violence — it’s not surprising that President Joe Biden hasn’t publicly embraced them.

After denouncing some of the protests as being out-of-bounds on Thursday, Biden told reporters that the demonstrations haven’t led him to reconsider his stance on the war. That’s not just because of his long-standing support for Israel, but because he has historically been skeptical of protest movements in general.

Polling has shown that pro-Palestinian protests are unpopular in general, despite widespread concerns about Israel’s conduct in the war. A recent Morning Consult poll found that 47% of voters supported banning “pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campuses,” versus 30% who were opposed and 23% who were unsure.

Americans’ views on the ongoing campus protests and how universities should respond to them, broken out by age group:

See splits by party ID and educational attainment here, by my colleague @eyokley:

— Jason I. McMann, PhD (@jimcmann) May 2, 2024

Polling continues to show Biden running neck-and-neck with former President Donald Trump ahead of their November rematch, and the president and his campaign are likely trying to mitigate as much possible electoral damage as they can. It’s also worth noting that the college-aged students taking part in these protests are part of a demographic that usually struggles to turn out on Election Day.

Biden’s weariness of the protests also fit within his larger political identity.

The president is part of a generation of Democrats that viewed close ties to Israel as a bedrock part of American foreign policy. During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, he also kept his distance from the progressive activists and lawmakers that now undergird much of the party’s criticism of Israel.

Compared to President Barack Obama, Biden was far more circumspect about criticizing Israel during its 2014 war, according to an NBC News report — and that conflict pales in comparison to the current one.

Even Biden’s roots come with a distance toward protest movements. Unlike other lawmakers of his generation, Biden largely stayed away from the Vietnam War protests that sparked upheaval on college campuses nationwide.

“I was in law school,” Biden said of the Vietnam War protests, per The New York Times. “I wore sport coats.”

It remains to be seen whether Biden will pay the price at the ballot box for his positioning. He was already facing a growing electoral challenge from the Uncommitted movement, with progressives, young voters, and Arab and Muslim American voters withholding their support for Biden over his support for Israel.

The race between Biden and Trump is so close that even the vocal minority of young voters staying home could be a big problem for the president.

However, Americans traditionally don’t peg their votes to foreign policy issues. Both historic and current polling shows voters are far more concerned about the economy.

A recent CBS News-YouGov poll of Michigan likely voters found that of 10 potential issues, the war between Israel and Hamas was the least likely to be a major factor in which candidate a voter would support — the most important issues by far were the economy and inflation.

Even among young voters, the trend remains the same. A Harvard Youth Poll of 18-to-29-year-olds nationwide found that the war was far less important to voters than inflation or healthcare.

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