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Polling undermines a popular media narrative about young people and Gaza

Surveys show young voters don’t appear to rank the Israel-Hamas conflict among their top election priorities heading into November. Some calibration is in order.


It’s been interesting to see polls — from both before and after the outburst of pro-Palestinian campus demonstrations — that appear to undercut a lot of media coverage about young voters and their priorities heading into November.

Several polls and focus groups have shown young people ranking the ongoing conflict in the Middle East as significantly less important to them than other issues — such as health care and the economy. This suggests that some of the coverage portraying young people as single-issue voters motivated by the Israel-Hamas war, or framing the protests as a death knell for President Joe Biden’s campaign, is overblown.

Some calibration could prove useful.

To be clear, it’d be naive to claim the ongoing campus demonstrations stand no chance of affecting Biden’s re-election chances. There’s fresh evidence that older Americans are growing tired of Israeli leadership, too.

But the narrative that violence in the Middle East is dictating how young Americans will vote for president has irked me, to be honest.

But the narrative that violence in the Middle East is dictating how young Americans will vote for president has irked me, to be honest. Maybe it’s because much of this coverage has obscured the reality that peace in the Middle East — and between Israelis and Palestinians, in particular — has been an elusive goal for multiple administrations for decades.

Maybe it’s because media coverage looking at the conflict through the lens of presidential politics has, at times, taken priority over what I feel are more fruitful discussions about how the conflict began and how to actually end it.

Maybe it’s because a laser focus on campus unrest has felt somewhat elitist, given its presumption that the priorities of uniquely outspoken students at academic institutions — such as divesting campus endowments from Israel — are widely shared among young people. As someone who advocated in college for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal from incarceration, I know how foolish it is to presume such things.

Or perhaps my frustration stems from the simple fact that news outlets seem to be underestimating the shrewd calculus and sobriety that young voters exhibit in their ballot decisions.

Yeah, that’s it.

Seeing the actual polling data affirms my belief that many in the media have assumed young voters to be far more impulsive than they are. Perhaps that’s why some writers and pundits have taken it for granted that young people will see the current Middle East conflict and vote with that as their singular focus.

Yes, many young people — both those supporting the Israeli government and those supporting Palestinians — feel passionately about the Israel-Hamas war. But it doesn’t appear to be the driving force behind their voting this fall. That obviously doesn’t mean the media should stop covering the war or the related protests; it just means there are serious flaws in covering these things through the lens of presidential politics.