Why Gaza Won’t Cost Biden the Presidency

What is rare amid this pileup of polls is a survey that zeroes in on voters who say they would abandon their party because of their passions over a particular issue. That is why a Wall Street Journal survey, conducted before the State of the Union, is so fascinating. The poll found that only 2 percent of voters said they were single-issue voters on “Israel/Gaza/Palestine.” Even then, it is impossible to tell from the poll whether this small group of voters were all Democrats fuming over Gaza or whether that 2 percent also included Israel-right-or-wrong hawks who fervently support Netanyahu. This 2 percent figure fits with the conclusion of Dartmouth College professor of government Jeffrey A. Friedman in his 2023 book, The Commander-in-Chief Test: Public Opinion and the Politics of Image-Making in US Foreign Policy. As Friedman writes, “The quantitative evidence … suggests that presidential candidates’ foreign policy positions might explain just one or two percentage points of presidential voting, at the margin.” 

In 2020, Biden carried four swing states by less than 2 percent: Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. If the 2024 election were again agonizingly close, would-be Biden voters infuriated by Israel’s conduct in Gaza could make a difference by staying home or opting for a third-party candidate. But the same is true for other issues that arouse passions like guns, immigration, and abortion. In Florida in 2000, where the presidency hinged on hanging chads, a case can be made that devotees of any number of issues say with some justice that their votes made the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

The closest recent historical analog to the ongoing crisis in Gaza was probably the Bosnian war that raged during much of Bill Clinton’s first term, leaving 250,000 people dead and about two million homeless. In the face of ethnic cleansing, Clinton dithered until more than 7,000 Bosnians were executed in Srebrenica in a 1995 massacre reminiscent of World War II. Only then did Clinton lend his support to the aggressive NATO bombing campaign that led to the Dayton Accords, which ended the war.