A Poll On the Protests

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It’s possible there have been other polls. But this one released by YouGov is the first I’ve seen since recent events at Columbia, UCLA and other colleges and universities around the country. It shows a very interesting picture — both that the protests are not very popular with the American public but also that — which of course we know — they’re highly complicated for Democratic candidates.

There are a few questions. But the most relevant are do you support them or not and do you think colleges have been too harsh or not harsh enough in responding to them. On support or not it’s 28% support and 47% oppose among U.S. adults. But that number goes up to 46% support among Democrats. 31% of Democrats oppose and 23% aren’t sure. Among independents support drops down to 24%. 72% of Jews oppose them; 75% of Muslims support them. No real surprise in either case. 40% of Americans 18-44 support; over 45 that number drops to 19%.

Setting aside your viewpoint, this is complicated politically for any Democrat. Almost half of Democrats support the protests. But a substantial minority opposes them and a lot of Democrats don’t know what they think. If you want to be creative with the numbers you could say that 54% either oppose the protests or aren’t sure about them.

The numbers get more interesting still when you break down Democratic support for the protests. The total number supporting is 46%, quite a lot. But of those, 28% say that they “somewhat support” and only 17% say “strongly support.” So I think it’s fair to say that most of that support is of the “I see young people speaking out about a war that’s gone on too long and has killed to many people” variety.

What’s just as important is that Democrats need some independents to get elected. So it’s an issue you kind of want to avoid getting into at all unless you’re a Democrat from a very blue district. It just divides your coalition really badly. Which tells you a lot about the White House’s response to date.

The other question — too harsh or not harsh enough — was in a way even more interesting to me. I know many people who don’t really support the goals of the protests but have still been troubled by how universities have handled them. There have been various faculty senate votes which have come out like this. Point being, many more people saying they don’t like how universities have dealt with the protests than actually support the protests in the first place.

But that’s not the dynamic with the public at large. If anything its the reverse.

Only 16% of Americans think the response has been too harsh and 33% say it should have been harsher. The rest say that’s it’s been about right or that they don’t know. Even among Democrats, the too harsh number is only 24%. For Democrats running campaigns, the most salient number is that 47% of Democrats either think universities have handled things about right (30%) or should have been harsher (17%). Among Jews it’s 14% too harsh and 59% not harsh enough. These are big majorities favoring taking relatively tough measures (how I’d characterize actions so far?) to bring the encampments to a halt. Very hard for an incumbent president to be on the other side of that lopsided a measure of public opinion.

One final point. On both questions but especially on the second there are very large numbers of respondents who say they’re not sure. If you’re just trying to see who’s “winning” one can tend to toss those out. But in many ways they’re the most important. People don’t know a lot about either and many say they don’t have a settled opinion at all. So a lot of public opinion is in flux. But it’s also the case that that most people just don’t know much at all. What did the universities actually do? What are the protests demanding? etc. I spend a lot of time on the site going into all kinds of wild detail about the groups taking the lead in the protests etc but clearly most people just have a general sense it’s about a lot of civilians dying in Gaza. And frankly, why wouldn’t you support protests that oppose that?

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