05.15.2024 0

Campus Protests Spark Huge Backlash Against Biden, But There is a Conservative Shift Among Gen Z Too

By Manzanita Miller   

Poll after poll shows young Americans shifting 20 percentage points or more away from President Joe Biden compared to 2020. However, a natural concern is how much of this shift is due to the recent sweep of student protests over the president’s perceived support for Israel, and how much is a true rejection of Biden’s agenda?

The motivations for Gen Z’s rejection of Biden are multifaceted, but there is evidence that younger Americans – especially young men, rural voters, and those who chose to enter the workforce instead of attend of college – have been gravitating away from Democrats for years.     

The intense surge of anti-Biden sentiment among activist young people is strongest among current college students and is more prevalent among urbanites and non-voters. In contrast, anti-Biden sentiment without a left-wing influence is more likely to stem from Gen Zers who skipped college and went directly into the workforce, young men, and rural voters.

However the data is sliced, Biden is hemorrhaging support from young people in recent polls, but how much of that is tied to the current student protests is a difficult question to answer.

In terms of evidence that Biden is floundering with young people, there is no shortage. An April Florida Atlantic University poll revealed just one third of voters under age 35 plan to support Biden, the lowest level of support for Biden among any age bracket.

An April poll from the New York Times found Biden leading former President Donald Trump by a single percentage-point among voters under 30, 47% to 46%.

Is it possible these polls represent a passing blip in time, capturing the vehement anti-Israel student protests and little else? The anti-Israel sentiment is part of the picture but not the full picture.

There is consistent evidence that Biden was losing ground long before the war in Gaza broke out. A New York Times poll from fall 2023 shows Biden winning under thirties by a single percentage point, 47 percent to 46 percent, after winning them by 24 points in 2020. Polling from a year ago – the spring of 2023 – also shows Biden was already losing ground with Gen Z.  

A May 2023 Washington Post / ABC News poll found 50 percent of young people disapproved of Biden’s job as president and voters under thirty said by an almost two-to-one margin that Trump would be a better steward of the economy (57%) than Biden (28%).

An April 2023 YouGov poll – conducted during Trump’s initial indictment in New York City – found Trump’s approval rating among young people was up by double-digits compared to the same poll in October 2022. Trump’s favorability among millennials rose ten percentage-points and his favorability among Gen Z rose up fourteen percentage-points during that time period. 

In terms of election results, Trump gained five points with voters aged 25 to 29 between 2016 and 2020, and the GOP gained five points with voters 18 to 24 between the 2018 and 2022 midterm elections. The gains are modest, but there is a steep decline in Democratic affiliation that should be more concerning to the left.

For example, the spring 2024 Harvard Youth Poll reveals Biden has lost significant ground with voters under thirty compared to four years ago, especially among young men. Biden is leading Trump by just thirteen percentage points, a strong departure from the same poll in the spring of 2020 when Biden led Trump by twenty-three points. Much of this shift has occurred among young men according to the data. 

Biden went from a 26-point lead among men under thirty in 2020 to a mere six-point lead in the current poll. Young women’s support for Biden has remained fairly stable, with Biden sitting at a 35-point lead among young women in 2020 and a comfortable 33-point lead today.  

Young men also identify as Democrats at a significantly lower rate now than they did four years ago. Right now, just 32 percent of men under thirty identify as Democrats, down from 42 percent in 2020. Over the same period, the share of young men identifying as Republican has increased nine percentage points from 20 percent in 2020 to 29 percent today. Among young women, Democrats gained six points.   

Then, there is the rise of rampant anti-Israel sentiment spreading like wildfire across university campuses that has caused Biden’s polling numbers to nosedive even further among. This sentiment has been spread by radical left-wing professors and set ablaze a series of protests across college campuses as well as calls to replace Biden.

Brand new polling from Intelligent shows just how strong this anti-Biden backlash is among young people, with the data showing two in three college students support the pro-Palestinian protests. The data also shows over half of those who support the protests claim to support Hamas as well.

However, sympathy for Hamas and Palestine is likely smaller off campus. For instance, the Harvard Youth Poll reveals less than a third (32 percent) of voters aged 18 to 29 say they have sympathy for the Palestinian government while a 39 percent say they do not have enough information and a quarter say they have no sympathy.

Sympathy for Hamas is even lower among young people as a whole, with just 17 percent of young people saying they sympathize with Hamas while the majority (46 percent) has no sympathy. College students (29 percent), those who do not plan to vote this fall (29 percent), and urbanites (27 percent) are the most likely to sympathize with Hamas. Men (48 percent), slightly older voters aged 25 to 29 (51 percent), whites (51 percent), rural voters (51 percent) and registered voters (53 percent) are the most likely to say they have no sympathy for Hamas according to the Harvard poll. 

What this reveals is that the anti-Israel protests, and notably the Anti-Biden frenzy they are sparking among America’s activist youth, are largely consolidated to college campuses.  

The Harvard Youth Poll data shows further evidence that there is a stark divide between the views of young people on campus and off campus. For instance, current college students plan to support Biden by a significantly lower margin than those in the workforce. College students plan to support Biden by just nine points, while those with “some college” plan to support Trump by four points, and college graduates plan to support Biden by a vast 37 points.  

Then there is the urban/rural divide. The Harvard poll shows Biden continuing to secure urban young people by 32 points and securing suburbanites by 17 points, but Trump securing rural Gen Z by 30 points.

While anti-Biden, pro-Palestinian fervor is exceedingly popular on college campuses at the moment, the war in Gaza is far from the only factor driving young people away from Biden. That said, it is a large factor, and it is pushing away the most activist young people, especially those who admit they are less likely to vote in November.  

Setting aside Biden’s dwindling support from the most activist wing of the college crowd, Biden is also losing support among more moderate members of Gen Z, especially young men. Not only have Democrats’ margins with young people shrank (albeit modesty) over the past few election cycles, but polling taking the pulse of Zoomers showed a steep decline in support for Biden long before the war in Gaza broke out. There are a multitude of factors eroding Biden’s support, and not all of them will benefit Trump or the Republican party, but there is evidence some of them could.  

Manzanita Miller is the senior political analyst at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

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