Voter groups warn Biden his stance on Gaza could suppress youth turnout next year

The leaders of progressive groups focused on mobilizing young voters are warning President that his handling of the war in Gaza could depress turnout in a demographic that’s already notoriously difficult to energize on Election Day.

“We are experts in youth voting behavior who have worked tirelessly across the years to generate Generation Z and Millennial enthusiasm for civic action under a variety of circumstances,” the leaders wrote Tuesday in an open letter addressed to Biden and first shared with NBC News. “We write to you to issue a very stark and unmistakable warning: you and your Administration’s stance on Gaza risks millions of young voters staying home or voting third party next year.”

Signers include the heads of groups like March for Our Lives, the student-led gun violence prevention group founded by survivors of school shootings; United We Dream, which describes itself as the largest immigrant youth-led network in the U.S.; Gen Z for Change, which was started during the 2020 election by online influencers as TikTok for Biden; and the Sunrise Movement, the activist youth climate organization.

“We mobilized the record youth turnout in 2020 that pushed your ticket over the finish line,” the letter continues. “There is no way for a Democratic presidential nominee to win without significant youth voter enthusiasm and mobilization. Young people are a cornerstone of a winning Democratic coalition, and the vast majority of young people in this country are rightfully horrified by the atrocities committed with our tax dollars, with your support, and our nation’s military backing.”

The warning is the latest sign that the conflict in the Middle East risks fracturing a fragile Democratic coalition, one made up of large factions with opposing views about what level of support the Biden administration should be providing to Israel as it seeks retribution in Gaza for Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack.

Muslim and Arab Americans, who overwhelmingly backed Biden in 2020, have threatened not to vote for him next year over what they say is a lack of U.S. action to help Palestinian civilians. A new survey of Michigan Democrats finds his support cratering among the group.

Polls suggest that most Democrats and most Americans support Israel. But the same numbers also reveal a major generational divide, with young voters indicating they are far less supportive of Israel’s handling of the war than older and more conservative Americans.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that three-quarters of respondents said supporting Israel is in the national interest. But only 52% of adults under age 35 agreed with that statement, and just 21% approved of Biden’s policy toward Israel.

Young voters were already souring on Biden before the outbreak of the war, but the trend appears to have accelerated in the past month as pro-Palestinian protests erupt on college campuses.

Gallup last week found that Biden’s approval rating among Democrats had tumbled by 11 percentage points in the past month, hitting the lowest point in his presidency, with a steep drop among young voters.

A New York Times-Siena College poll of five swing states found that among voters under 30, who lean heavily Democratic, just 5% “strongly approve” of how Biden is doing his job and 25% “somewhat approve.”

The generational split has also revealed itself inside the Biden administration, on Capitol Hill and at the Democratic National Committee, where staffers, who are typically younger than their bosses, have found ways to publicly express their concerns about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians despite a culture and even rules that prohibit personal political expression.

In their letter, the youth-focused groups say they “fear that it will not be possible … to recruit the volunteers, organizers, staff” needed and that they “cannot explain your position to the people of our generation.”

Twenty- and thirty-something staffers are typically the core workforce of any political campaign.

The groups urged Biden to pressure Israel for a cease-fire, adding that failing to do so would be “a moral and political disaster.”

Of course, young activist groups, which are often to the left of Biden on most topics, frequently complain about his administration’s handling of a variety of other issues, such as student loans and climate change. And they have previously issued warnings, albeit less dire, about the potential political consequences of other decisions he has made.

Ensuring turnout among young voters has traditionally been challenging even in the best of times — they typically vote at lower rates than older cohorts. But given their hard lean to the left, they are a critical component of any successful Democratic campaign, and their larger-than-expected turnout was partly credited with Democratic wins in 2020 and 2022.

“We mobilized the record youth turnout in 2020 that pushed your ticket over the finish line in key swing states. Many of us worked to provide the critical source of support for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections that prevented the Red Wave,” the leaders said in Tuesday’s letter.

“We did not spend hours upon hours knocking doors and making calls to turn out the vote so that you could support indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and violations of international law,” they added. “Your legacy hangs in the balance.”

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