May 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive poll: Most college students shrug at nationwide protests

The bar chart shows the results of a survey of 1,250 U.S. college students taken in May 2024, ranking the issues they consider most important. Healthcare reform was the top concern with 40%, followed closely by educational funding and access at 38%, and economic fairness and opportunity at 37%. The least important issues to students were the conflict in the Middle East and national security/terrorism, at 13% and 15% respectively.
Data: Generation Lab; Note: Respondents selected up to three issues; Chart: Axios Visuals

College protests against Israel's war in Gaza are dominating headlines. But only a sliver of students are participating or view it as a top issue, according to a new Generation Lab survey shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: The poll hints that the war — and the accompanying protests — might not hurt President Biden's election prospects among young voters as much as previously thought.

By the numbers: Only a small minority (8%) of college students have participated in either side of the protests, the survey of 1,250 college students found.

  • Students ranked the conflict in the Middle East as the least important issue facing them out of nine options.
  • It landed behind health care reform, racial justice and civil rights, economic fairness and opportunity, education funding and access, and climate change.

What they found: The survey found that three times as many college students blame Hamas for the current situation in Gaza than they do President Biden.

  • Some 34% blame Hamas, while 19% blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 12% blame the Israeli people and 12% blame Biden.

Zoom in: A large majority (81%) of students support holding protesters accountable, agreeing with the notion that those who destroyed property or vandalized or illegally occupied buildings should be held responsible by their university, per the survey.

  • A majority also said they oppose the protest tactics: 67% say occupying campus buildings is unacceptable and 58% say it's not acceptable to refuse a university's order to disperse.
  • Another 90% said blocking pro-Israel students from parts of campus is unacceptable.

The other side: Students were still more likely to say they support the pro-Palestininan encampments than oppose them.

  • 45% said they support them either strongly or a little bit. 30% were neutral, and 24% were strongly or a bit opposed.

Zoom out: More than 2,000 people have been arrested on campuses across the U.S.

Worth noting: A majority of people (58%) who participated in or favored protests against Israel said they would not consider being friends with someone who has marched for Israel.

  • Meanwhile, 64% of those who participated in a pro-Israel protest said they would still be friends with someone who has marched against Israel.

Methodology: This study was conducted May 3-6 from a representative sample of n=1,250 students nationwide from 2-year and 4-year schools. The margin of error is +/- 2.7 percentage points. The Generation Lab conducts polling using a demographically representative sample frame of college students at community colleges, technical colleges, trade schools and public and private four-year institutions.

Go deeper: Where college negotiations ended campus protest chaos

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