If Biden Wants Young Climate Voters, He Should Back a Gaza Cease-Fire

On Monday, Earth Day, Joe Biden highlighted several steps his administration is taking to make good on its climate goals: using $7 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act to make grants that make residential solar power accessible to lower-income communities that might not otherwise be able to afford it; protecting federal lands from oil and gas drilling; and, finally, launching the American Climate Corps, or ACC, first announced last fall. The remarks delivered in Virginia’s verdant Prince William Forest Park—built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the ACC’s New Deal-era reference point—were also attended by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, lead sponsors of their chambers’ respective Green New Deal resolutions.

It’s not exactly out of the ordinary for a president to spend Earth Day boasting about his efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and preserve nature. The address, though, comes at a delicate time for the administration. Recent polling shows that Biden’s lead over Trump among young people is 8 percent lower than it was in 2020; since taking office, he’s long struggled to generate much enthusiasm with young voters who helped elect him in 2020. Some of those same young people are also currently being arrested for protesting a war the Biden administration has supported. Students at Columbia University protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza and calling for university divestment from arms suppliers were rounded up by the NYPD last week. Since then, protesters at New York University and Yale University have been arrested as well.

With campus crackdowns in the U.S. and mass graves in Gaza blanketing headlines, Biden’s climate initiatives generated less buzz on Earth Day than what he said afterward. Asked by a reporter if he condemned “the antisemitic protests on college campuses,” ostensibly referencing the Columbia protests, which many Jews have participated in, Biden said he did: “I condemn the antisemitic protests.”

Climate has been a core part of Biden’s appeals to young voters. Announcing a temporary pause on natural gas export terminal permitting last year, Biden credited the “younger people” advocating a shift away from fossil fuels. Asked during a press call on Monday about the importance of winning over young voters, a top White House official said that “one of the big calls for young—from young people has been, ‘Don’t just deploy the solutions; have us be part of that.’  I think there’s a real hunger to participate in the problem-solving here.” He added that the White House has “taken those marching orders seriously. And I think what we’re delivering will resonate a great deal.” The climate corps, he added, includes “job postings that will put boots on the ground this summer.”

Asked Tuesday whether the Biden administration was concerned about young climate voters deserting the president over Gaza, a spokesperson responded that, “as a candidate, Joe Biden promised to fight to address the climate crisis, and as president, he’s delivered on that promise.” He added that Biden has received “the endorsements of 15 leading youth vote groups and the nation’s leading climate groups.”

It’ll be a hard pitch, though, for Biden to use his climate accomplishments to coax back young voters angry about his administration’s continued support for Israel’s war on Gaza. For one, even voters most concerned about the climate crisis aren’t all that aware of what he’s done. Only 10 percent of Americans of all ages who say climate change is a very important issue to them have heard or read a lot about what the Biden administration has done so far to deal with it, per polling released on Monday by CBS News and YouGov. Americans under 30, moreover, support a permanent cease-fire in Gaza by a five-to-one ratio, and are more sympathetic overall to Palestinians being killed with weapons furnished by the United States.

The young people who “have their fingerprints all over President Biden’s climate agenda,” in the words of the White House official on Monday’s press call, are also plenty angry about his continued support for Israel’s assault on Gaza. This message persists across multiple polls. It’s understandable that the administration and the Biden campaign would be nervous about waning youth support. But the best way for Biden to win back young voters who want a permanent cease-fire—including climate voters—would be to support a permanent cease-fire.