Judging by headlines and social media clips alone, it would seem that huge numbers of college students have mobilized in opposition to Israel and its response to a brutal, unprovoked attack by a global terrorist organization.

The data, however, show that this impression is wrong. Two recent polls push back on the narrative that Israel is hated on college campuses and that students are protesting en masse. The surveys reveal that Israel and Hamas are not the dominant issues for most students, and Americans more broadly, and that majorities of students and citizens strongly support Israel.

An April 2024 Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll of almost 2,000 registered voters shows that, counter to the views of protestors, 80% of Americans support Israel over Hamas. Voters also understand that Israel is not systematically trying to wipe out Palestinians; 67% of voters believe that Israel is trying to avoid civilian casualties in fighting its war against Hamas. Moreover, over three-quarters of Americans (78%) maintain that when the war concludes, Hamas needs to be removed from running Gaza. As such, 72% of Americans believe that Israel should move forward with an operation in Rafah to finish the war with Hamas. And, centrally, when it comes to the war itself, the majority of American voters (71%) believe that the crisis in Gaza was created mostly by Hamas, not Israel.

Turning to collegiate campuses, the majority of students do not support the messaging and behavior of the protests, and most are not participants. A new Generation Lab poll of 1,250 college and university students reveals that just a sliver of students — 8% — participated in either side of the protests. Among a list of issues that matter most to college students — including health care, racial justice, civil rights, economic fairness, access to education and climate change — many students ranked conflict in the Middle East last — with just 13% saying it was among their top three issues.

College students are in line with the American voters in the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, which showed that similarly low numbers of Americans — just 7% — ranked the Israel/Hamas conflict as being among the most important issues facing the country.

College students are much more fractured when assigning blame for the conflict in Israel. The Generation Lab survey found that three times as many college students blame Hamas for the current situation in Gaza than blame President Joe Biden. Specifically, 34% of students blame Hamas for the war, while another 19% blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 12% blame the Israeli people and 12% blame Biden — hardly a monolithic bloc on campus.

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Finally, the protests and encampments have been disruptive — resulting in commencement cancellations, frequent violence and police being called onto campus. Generation Lab’s survey data shows that most students believe people should be held accountable for this behavior. About 81% of students support the notion that protesters should be held accountable and agree that those who destroyed property, vandalized or illegally occupied buildings should be held responsible by their college or university.

Despite the horrific images of Jewish students being surrounded and threatened at schools like UCLA and Columbia, 90% of students agree that blocking pro-Israel students from parts of campus is unacceptable and a majority of students stand in opposition to the current protest tactics. Two-thirds (67%) say that occupying campus buildings is unacceptable and 58% say that it is not acceptable to refuse a university’s order to disperse.

In short, there is a scared, silent majority of students who are not actively participating in the campus protests and who disagree with the messaging and agenda of the protesters. These students are not as extreme, dogmatic or as dangerous as social media makes all students seem when videos show a small minority of students taking over buildings and spaces from Columbia to UCLA. Americans, too, are generally in disagreement with the college protesters and even some liberal leaders are now being fed up with the state of college campuses; the mayor of New York City even stated in response to the Columbia protests that the city “will not be a city of lawlessness.”

School leaders, along with public officials and community organizers, would be well served to understand where voters and students are on the situation in Israel. They should recognize that those who are screaming the loudest are doing so because they are in the wrong and represent only a misguided, ignorant fringe. Leaders should feel far more comfortable taking action against violent and dangerous students and agitators. Leaders must reclaim the narrative that we as a nation support debate, diversity and disagreement — not threats, violence and extremism. Too many lines have been crossed, and we must protect our civil sphere and democratic traditions.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.