Young Activists to Biden: Change Course on Gaza — or Lose in 2024

Biden is going to blow it with young voters if he doesn’t change course.

That’s the message leaders of several groups that rallied those voters to support Biden in 2020 are sending as the president continues his wholesale support of the Israeli government’s continued assault on Gaza. These leaders represent widely divergent interest groups — from climate action to gun violence prevention — but many say the Gaza attack is galvanizing young Americans on a scale they haven’t seen before.

“Biden has the opportunity to listen to the majority of people in this country that are calling for him to call for a ceasefire, and an end to unconditional support to the Israeli military. And we are seeing an immense risk around whether or not young people will feel alienated ahead of the 2024 election and risk staying home,” says Michele Weindling, the political director for the Sunrise Movement, a political action group that advocates around climate policy.

Young voters didn’t just play an important role in Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 — according to some analysts, their support was the decisive factor that secured the White House for him. But interviews and recent polls suggest that, one year out from the election, the president’s support among young people is slipping — and the White House’s reluctance to call for a ceasefire in Gaza risks further alienating this important cohort.

One startling Washington Post/ABC News survey found Trump leading Biden by 20 points among voters under the age 35 — the same group Biden won by double digits in 2020. (Another recent poll showed a smaller edge for Trump, just 2 points, among 18 to 29 year old voters.)

And Biden’s steadfast support for the Israeli government’s actions, and his desire to provide additional military aid to Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration as the civilian death toll in Gaza continues to climb, could be making things worse. A recent CNN poll found a stark generational divide when it comes to support for Israel’s airstrikes and ground offensive: Just 27 percent of 18 to 34-year-old voters believe Israel’s military response to Hamas’ attacks is fully justified. (By contrast, 81 percent of voters 65 or older believe it is.)

In interviews, spokespeople for many of the groups that rallied young voters to support Biden in 2020 acknowledged that on many critical issues — climate action, gun violence prevention, student debt relief — the president has demonstrated he is listening. Now, those voters are asking Biden to listen to their concerns as they relate to Israel’s bombing of Gaza.

“Polling has shown — and we’ve seen out in the field — that this is an issue that young people are very passionate about,” says Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, president of NextGen America, one of the largest youth voter mobilization organizations. “There is overwhelming support amongst young voters in particular for a ceasefire.”

In 2020, Tzintzún Ramirez says, Biden was not the candidate that most young voters were enthusiastic about supporting. It took a huge effort — in NextGen’s case, tens of thousands of volunteers, events on hundreds of college campuses, and outreach effort to more than 10 million young voters in 11 states — to help convince those voters that he was the right choice.

But when it came time to endorse a candidate this election there was overwhelming support within NextGen’s membership to line up Biden-Harris early because “they, on the issues that young people care about, really delivered.” (She cites work on climate, gun violence, and student debt relief as particularly important.)

But even as the group stands firmly behind Bdein, Tzintzún Ramirez warns the administration can’t take young voters’ support for granted. And she is not alone.

Biden “is making a massive mistake — not only morally, but politically and electorally — if he continues to ignore the majority of people in this country’s plea for a ceasefire. [He is making that mistake] ahead of a critical election where we need to see the difference not only between the Republicans and the Democrats, but [we also need to see] Democrats standing on the side of justice,” says Weindling from the Sunrise Movement.

Her organization and their partners were pleased by Biden’s willingness to work with them on the creation of a climate jobs training program, the American Climate Corps, a key piece of their agenda — even as they were pissed about Biden’s approval of the Willow Project, an oil drilling project on the north slope of Alaska. Weindling says the outrage over that decision is minor compared to what she is seeing among her cohort now.

“Where we’re at right now is like Willow times one million,” she adds.

Even the gun control group March for Our Lives is urging Biden to take a stronger stance. “We’re an organization that was founded by and then committed to peace and nonviolence. I mean, it’s the whole reason we exist: To protect young lives. And anywhere that our lives, as young people, are threatened is cause for deep concern,” says Ryan Barto, a spokesperson for the group. “Like the vast majority of young Americans, we’re calling on the president to step in, and to help stop that bleeding and end that violence.”

A White House spokesperson points out that Biden has publicly called for a “humanitarian pause” to protect civilians attempting to leave and to allow aid to flow into Gaza, and the president has pressed Netanyahu privately to that effect. Nationally, approval of Biden’s support for Israel is evenly split — in large part thanks to support from older voters, and Republicans.

The Biden campaign, for its part, insists that it is listening. “President Biden continues to work closely and proudly with leaders in the Muslim and Palestinian communities in America, to listen to them, stand up for them, and fight back against hate,” says Ammar Moussa, director of rapid response for Biden-Harris 2024.

Biden has, of course, confounded skeptics who warned young voters would not show up for him before. The leftist PAC Justice Democrats was highly critical of Joe Biden in the primary — but eventually threw the full weight of its support behind his bid, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads that ran in swing states like Pennsylvania and Arizona begging voters to “Take 10 minutes this November and f—ing vote.”

Usamah Andrabi, communications director for the group, says, “I think the progressive movement that young voters were excited to see a president actually listening to them even a little. But over the last few weeks, I think for a majority of young voters, it has felt like they are screaming to deaf years.”

His advice to the White House is that it pays attention. “I think the gamble Joe Biden is making is that young people, like so many voters, don’t care about foreign policy,” Andrabi says. “But I don’t think it’s 2002 anymore. We have lived through two decades of failed, endless wars. Failed foreign policy decisions by our government. And young people are activated about this. They have always been at the center of the pro-peace movement in this country. And it is shameful for the President to think that, come a year from now, they’ll forget what he greenlit in Gaza, which is genocide.”

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