Messaging & Public OpinionMessaging

The War in Gaza and Voter Dynamics: Insights for 2024

06.07.2024 Jessica Church, Political Director

This spring, Public Wise embarked on an ambitious research project to quantitatively and qualitatively assess the electoral risk that the War in Gaza might pose in November. We were hearing anecdotally from partners in our focus states – Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania – that their members, volunteers, and grassroots supporters were raising the issue in conversation and communicating some reticence toward supporting President Biden.

These anecdotes served as a starting point. We decided to press deeper and gather quantitative data to help us understand the true size and scope of this phenomenon as well as qualitative data to understand the contours of voter opinion among some key constituencies that are thought to be at highest risk of sitting out the election.

While this project may initially seem a bit outside the typical scope of Public Wise’s research purview, we have previously conducted research to better understand non-voters including what factors have led to eligible voters choosing not to participate in an election. Past findings have shown that the decision not to vote is not typically born out of apathy, as the dominant narrative suggests. Instead, high levels of disillusionment and lack of trust in government are major barriers to individuals turning out to vote. Our ultimate goal with this project was to determine how many voters, and who, are at risk of sitting out this election, and explore whether there are effective messages that could persuade them to remain in the electorate.

This research project rests on three pillars of data. First, we conducted a nationally-representative survey of registered voters with oversamples from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Second, we conducted a Michigan specific survey of registered voters including additional recruitment efforts to ensure that we captured several hard-to-survey populations including Jewish voters, Arab-American voters, and Muslim voters. And finally, we conducted online bulletin boards – a non-synchronous online 1:1 interview – to better understand how Jewish voters, Muslim voters, Arab-American voters, Gen Z voters, and Black progressives in the South are feeling about the War in Gaza and other issues affecting their vote intentions. These populations were selected because they’re thought to be at highest risk of defecting from Biden in November.

Key Findings 

These three research instruments generated a wealth of data, and we have focused our initial analysis on the voting intentions of individuals who voted for Biden in 2020.

  • 11% of 2020 Biden voters nationally are not committed to Biden for the 2024 election, but have persuadable vote intentions. We define someone as having “persuadable vote intentions” if they are not currently planning to vote for Biden but still planning to vote, or are considering voting and are undecided about for whom.
  • Another 9% of 2020 Biden voters are not committed to Biden and have less persuadable vote intentions. We define individuals as having “less persuadable vote intentions” if they plan not to vote or plan to vote for someone other than Biden (Trump or a third party candidate).
  • Approval of Biden’s handling of the War in Gaza is lower among Biden 2020 voters who are not yet committed to voting for him. Among 2020 Biden voters, disapproval of Biden’s handling was largely due to wanting the US to stay out of the conflict or perceptions that he is favoring the Israelis too much.
  • The War in Gaza is unlikely to be the centrally defining issue driving overall lack of commitment to Biden in November. Still, it is one important issue among a bundle of issues, including abortion, cost of living, and protecting democracy, that are shaping voters’ November 2024 intentions. For certain voters, the War in Gaza may constitute a tipping point issue.
  • Younger voters are more likely to cast their vote solely based on the War in Gaza, but they are also more open to casting their vote based on other single issues. Among 2020 Biden voters, young voters have the lowest level of support for Biden going into 2024 compared to other age brackets. A plurality of young 2020 Biden voters indicated that cost of living and inflation is the issue that could influence their vote.

In our qualitative study of swing-state Jewish voters, Muslim voters, Arab-American voters, Gen Z voters, and Black progressives in the South, we found that, indeed, many individuals within these populations have strong opinions about the War in Gaza, but it is not the only thing on their mind. Cost of living and inflation, immigration, and abortion, are also impacting their decision about who to support and whether or not to vote in November.

We offered three messages and attempted to gauge which, if any, these populations found persuasive in the context of encouraging someone to show up to vote in November. The first message, which we are calling “Me and My Family, Not a Single Issue,” received the most positive feedback. This message acknowledges that there are many issues that affect us, and voters have to weigh the candidates’ track records and cast their vote for the person that reflects what is best for them and for their family. Many respondents appreciated the personal appeal and that it centered the voter and the voters’ loved ones, not politicians.

Two other messages, which we shorthanded as, “Pick the Lesser of Two Evils” and “Pick the More Persuadable Candidate,” performed less well and received much more critical feedback from respondents.

Turning Research Into Action

Based on our findings, we have a few strategic recommendations for organizations on the ground that are persuading and mobilizing voters.

First, when crafting messages for voters, whether it’s phonebank and door-knocking scripts or paid media, keep the focus on the voter. Utilize messages that rely on personal appeals and remind voters that they need to choose what is best overall for them and their family’s future.

Second, do not be afraid to integrate multiple issues into a single communication to voters. While there are single issues that have the potential to sway a voter’s opinion, most voters approach elections holistically and see themselves as weighing many issues when voting.

Third, do not disparage or degrade single-issue voters or voting (even when talking to non-single issue voters). Among non-single issue voters, we found high levels of empathy for people who may be single issue voters, especially on issues that are emotionally charged like abortion or the War in Gaza.

Next Steps

We will be digging deeper into this treasure trove of data and generating a full report. We also hope that our partners who are conducting message tests in their states will consider additional testing using what we’ve learned.

Moving forward, we know with certainty that we cannot afford to treat young voters, Arab-American voters, Muslim voters, Black progressives, Jewish voters, and Gen-Z voters as simply “turnout universes.” Though these populations tend to skew Democratic, in 2024 we must engage in real persuasion efforts to ensure that these voters show up and support candidates who will protect our democracy.