Conventional wisdom suggests that Americans have little knowledge or interest in foreign policy. However, next year’s presidential election may prove to be different, as continued international crises could bring attention to the benefits and burdens of American global leadership. This could result in a rare phenomenon: a foreign policy election.
The Impact of Israel’s War Against Hamas
Israel’s war against Hamas has become a domestic political focal point, with divided opinions on whether it is a righteous campaign of self-defense or a cause of humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. President Joe Biden’s approach to this conflict, which he reiterated in a recent op-ed, may be endangering his reelection. His nearly unconditional support for Israel’s response, following Hamas’ attacks on October 7, has intensified the divisions within the Democratic Party on the issue of Palestinians.
Critical Young Voters
A significant number of young, diverse, and progressive voters are critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the situation in Gaza. They view the Gaza war as unjust and disproportionate. A November poll by NBC News revealed that 70% of U.S. voters under the age of 35 disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war. Other polls indicate that a majority of young voters do not support sending weapons to Israel, and less than half of Gen Z and millennials want the U.S. to publicly voice support for Israel, as Biden has consistently done. This issue could sway the results in crucial swing states, such as Michigan.
Shifting Dynamics of Support for Israel
Support for Israel has been uncontroversial for most of Biden’s political career. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightward shift and threats to Israel’s democratic institutions have tested the patience of sympathetic Americans, including many American Jews. Today, Washington’s pro-Israel lobby is dominated by evangelical Christians in the Republican Party base, rather than traditional supporters. The issue of Israel’s policies can no longer be taken for granted as a unifying factor among Democrats.
Challenges in a Foreign Policy Election
If next year’s election becomes a foreign policy-focused one, Biden will face fresh challenges. Independent voters, who do not align entirely with Democrats’ expansive view of American power, have different priorities. A survey conducted by the Institute for Global Affairs found that Republicans and independents prioritize protecting America from foreign threats and preventing other countries from taking advantage of the U.S. Democrats, on the other hand, prioritize promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law globally.
The Influence of Independents
Independents share Republicans’ skepticism of alliances, concerns over diminishing weapons stockpiles, and desire to withdraw U.S. troops stationed in Europe. Their views align more closely with those of Donald Trump than Joe Biden. The president’s campaign has increasingly dialed down its rhetoric of a worldwide “battle between democracy and autocracy” to appeal to swing voters who may not be inclined to vote for him.
The Changing Landscape of Foreign Policy
Historically, a foreign policy election has benefited the incumbent as Americans sought to present a united front during times of international crises. However, the current political climate is marked by a lack of agreement on the country’s perceived threats and the best approaches to address them. Different priorities and beliefs among voters make it challenging for political leaders to align their foreign policy decisions with the preferences of the public.
If foreign crises continue to dominate the attention of Americans in the upcoming election, Biden must consider the views of the electorate. Ignoring their preferences in foreign policy could jeopardize his chances of reelection.