Democratic support for Biden ticks upward over handling of Israel-Hamas war — poll

59% approve of leader’s approach to the war, and 75% say he’s doing well as US president; most Democrats and Republicans say it’s important that hostages held in Gaza be freed

US President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023 (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
US President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023 (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic views on how US President Joe Biden is handling the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians have rebounded slightly, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The shift occurred during a time in which Biden and top US officials expressed increased concern about civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip, emphasized the need for a future independent Palestinian state and helped secure the release of hostages held by Hamas during a temporary truce.

Fifty-nine percent of Democrats approve of Biden’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, up from 50% in November. His latest standing is roughly equivalent to Democrats’ 57% approval rating for him on the issue in an August poll, conducted well before the war began on October 7 — when Hamas attacked Israel in a shock onslaught from the Gaza Strip, killing some 1,200 people and taking at least 240 hostages.

Still, the issue remains divisive among Democrats, who are less enthusiastic about Biden’s handling of the war than his overall job performance.

Seventy-five percent of Democrats said Biden is doing well as president, also up slightly from 69% last month. His approval rating among US adults stands at 41%.

Views on the Middle East could shift again now that fighting has resumed in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is based and thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli strikes. Israel says it’s waging war while avoiding civilian casualties as much as it can, with Hamas embedding its military infrastructure in residential areas.

Israelis embrace next to photos of people killed and taken captive by Hamas terrorists during their violent rampage through the Nova music festival in southern Israel near Kibbutz Re’im, November 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Greg Baird, 61, said Biden is “doing the best he can with a really, really bad situation.”

“It’s a high wire act,” Baird said. The owner of a print shop in Georgia, he began voting for Democrats after US President Donald Trump took office.

“Israel is an ally,” Baird said. “Our strongest ally in that part of the world. We have to stand by them.”

Ginger Sommers, 47, had a similar view.

“I think what he’s doing right now is the best that he can do,” said Sommers, a registered Democrat who owns a restaurant in Arkansas.

“If Trump was in office, lord knows what would be going on,” she added. “I don’t even want to think about that.”

This picture taken on October 26, 2023 shows a view of a burnt kitchen in one of the houses attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7, in Kibbutz Holit in Israel’s southern district (YURI CORTEZ / AFP)

Biden has defended his approach to the war, which has included steadfast support for Israel. He’s argued that his closeness with Israeli leadership has enabled more humanitarian aid to reach civilians in Gaza. He’s also expressed increased reservations about the Palestinian death toll and emphasized the need for an independent Palestinian state.

“I’ve been very straightforward and blunt with our Israeli friends in private about what I think they have to do and the burden they have and the commitment they have from me and my administration,” Biden said at a campaign fundraiser in Boston this week.

Biden has needed to balance several goals during the war, some of which could prove to be in contention with each other as fighting between Israel and Hamas continues.

There’s wide agreement that it’s important for the US to work for the release of hostages being held in Gaza by Hamas. Although some have been released, over a hundred remain in Gaza after being kidnapped from Israel, some of whom hold US citizenship.

Sixty-seven percent of US adults call freeing hostages an extremely or very important goal, with majorities of Democrats and Republicans in agreement.

Israelis put up posters of the those held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at ‘Hostage Square’ in Tel Aviv, December 6, 2023. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

There’s less unanimity on other issues, however. Sixty-four percent of Democrats said it’s at least very important for the US to negotiate a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, as opposed to 35% of Republicans.

Twenty-eight percent of Republicans said it’s extremely or very important for the US to provide humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, versus 65% of Democrats.

Providing aid to Israel’s military for fighting Hamas received relatively lower ratings. Only 28% of Democrats said it was highly important, and 49% of Republicans said the same thing.

Rocio Acosta, 35, said she’s disappointed that Biden wants to rush aid to Israel.

“I believe that we should stay out of other country’s business,” said Acosta, a registered Democrat in Nebraska who works as a psychiatric nurse. “There’s so much to do here in the United States.”

Displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Younis set up camp in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt, on December 6, 2023. (MAHMOUD HAMS / AFP)

Acosta didn’t blame Israel for fighting Hamas, saying “any country would want to defend its people.” But she still wants a ceasefire and an end to the fighting.

“I would want both sides to stop,” she said.

Republicans remain sharply critical of Biden across the board, including when it comes to the war.

Michelle Harman, 48, complained that “this world is a mess right now.”

A financial analyst in New Mexico, she said Biden is doing a poor job as president.

“If he’s doing it, I’m not into it,” she said.

The poll of 1,074 adults was conducted Nov. 30 – Dec. 4, 2023, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. The margin of sampling error for Democrats is plus or minus 6.0 percentage points.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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