President Biden’s foreign policy is still relatively muddled in the eyes of voters, according to new polling shared with Semafor by the Reid Hoffman-backed Democratic group Blueprint.
“Voters do not have a clear throughline for what Biden’s trying to do on foreign policy,” pollster Evan Roth Smith told Semafor. “They don’t understand, or they don’t see any linkage, between the decisions made around Afghanistan and the decisions made around Ukraine and the decisions made around Israel.”
The poll, conducted with YouGov, is based on an online sample of 1,012 voter responses collected from December 02 to December 05, 2023. It has a margin of error of +/-3.4%.
The survey found Trump with an advantage on foreign policy: 43% of voters said they thought he was close to their views on national security and 41% said the same on “Israel and Palestine.” For Biden, 32% said they felt his national security views were close to their own, while 30% said the same of his stance on “Israel and Palestine.”
Blueprint tested a variety of short blurbs with Biden quotes describing his foreign policy approach in general terms, with each chosen for a different emphasis: American values, peacekeeping, national interests, advancing various U.S. priorities, or a more isolationist approach. Respondents were asked whether each example accurately described Biden’s approach and whether they supported it.
In general, the numbers were relatively similar: Somewhere between 56% and 63% described each approach as resembling Biden’s, with a relatively similar spread on whether they agreed with the sentiment.
But there were some notable shifts below the topline: Independents swung decisively toward a message that emphasized “the pursuit of peace above all else” (and cast involvement in military conflicts as steps towards that goal) over one that promised to “advance American interests around the world” on a laundry list of specific issues, which they also said they associated more with Biden.
Roth Smith said the evidence made clear Biden should work to “frame the same decisions around a sort of values-driven peace mission” versus “Kissingerian realism, which is not true to who he is at all.”
At the same time, the poll also showed the difficulty of navigating the Israel-Gaza conflict that’s splitting Biden’s base. When given three options, it found that a “Goldilocks” approach emphasizing support for Israel’s military campaign while pushing for a ceasefire built on releasing hostages was supported by a plurality of voters (36%), but just barely more than a more hawkish option emphasizing total support for Israel (33%) and a more dovish option demanding an immediate stop to military operations and a call for permanent ceasefire talks (30%).
The poll also tested a list of Biden policies for awareness and support, ranging from the withdrawal from Afghanistan (80% awareness) to support for Ukraine (86%) to less well-known aspects like strengthening the Quad Alliance between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States (48%).
The results pointed to a challenge for Biden: While he has aspects of his records that might resonate with a variety of foreign policy voter persuasions, some of them aren’t reaching the right audiences.
Take the relative doves and non-interventionists. While voters still largely agree with withdrawing from Afghanistan — even as the haphazard exit devastated Biden’s political standing — few are aware he rolled back U.S. drone warfare (a major concern of the left under President Obama) or give him credit for not committing troops to new conflicts. The drone decision polls especially strongly with Democrats, 82% of whom support it, along with 64% of independents.
Similarly, the more “America First”-oriented voters are less acquainted with Biden’s economic policies, which include some continuity with Trump on China tariffs as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in new initiatives to boost American industries. It’s possible Biden would benefit from more awareness of headlines about, say, European complaints that the U.S. is unfairly boosting its domestic electric vehicle and battery industry at their expense.
Support for NATO also remains a potential wedge issue for voters interested in shoring up alliances. It polled significantly better than the more narrow related issue of backing up Ukraine, with majority support from Republicans.