Michigan Democrats send message to Biden, with thousands voting for ‘uncommitted’ in primary

Protestors rally against President Joe Biden’s unwavering support for Israel on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on February 20, 2024.

Michigan Democrats made their opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza known in the state’s presidential primary Tuesday, casting an eye-opening number of votes against President Biden.

Biden won the party primary easily. He was on track to receive around 80% of the vote, with no other candidates higher than 3%.

The Associated Press called the race for Biden just after polls closed at 9:00 p.m. EST, just after the polls closed in Michigan. The AP also declared in the Michigan Republican primary held the same night.

But with about 20% of the vote counted Tuesday evening, around 15% of Michigan Democrats had cast ballots for “uncommitted,” following an organized campaign in the state to register displeasure with the president’s policy in the Middle East.

Demonstrators protest inside the Rockefeller Center asking for a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as U.S. President Joe Biden attends an interview in midtown Manhattan, in New York, U.S. February 26, 2024. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Demonstrators protest inside the Rockefeller Center asking for a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in New York on February 26, 2024. Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

Why Michigan?

Michigan is home to a large community of Arab-American voters, many with ties to or sympathy for the Palestinian community in the Gaza Strip, where the Israel Defense Force’s invasion in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel , according to the territory’s Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Michigan Democrats have a history of voting for the “uncommitted” option. Even in 2020, over 19,000 Democrats in the state pulled the lever for “uncommitted,” ostensibly as an expression of neutrality or displeasure with the existing options.

In 2008, Barack Obama skipped the Michigan primary, and the “uncommitted” option was a proxy to express support for him, or opposition to Hillary Clinton. Over 238,000 Michigan Democrats supported “uncommitted” in 2008.

And in 2012, as Obama cruised to reelection, a surprisingly large percentage of the Michigan primary vote — over 10% — cast a protest vote against Obama for “uncommitted.”

U.S. President Joe Biden laughs during a break in a taped TV interview on NBC's

President Joe Biden laughs during a break in a taped TV interview on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” in New York City. Reuters/Leah Millis

Understanding the results

Michigan Democrats who campaigned in recent weeks for the “uncommitted” option were clear that they were registering a protest vote against Biden’s policy of support for Israel, and not against the president remaining in office.

“We don’t want to see Trump return to the White House. We know what a danger he is to our democracy. We know what a threat he is to our institutions. And so today is an appeal,” state Rep. Alabas Farhat, a Democrat, .

Both parties face internal unrest

Among Democrats, there is a debate over whether Biden should step aside and allow a younger candidate to take his place. So far, that argument has not appeared to gain much traction beyond left-leaning talking heads.

And in the GOP, even though former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has lost every contest to Donald Trump, she continues to win a solid third of the vote. Many voters who are supporting Haley have told pollsters that they will not support Trump in the fall election.

Trump has gained an air of invincibility due to his dominance of the Republican grassroots. These are the voters who decide the primary elections, who strike fear in the hearts of GOP politicians who want to be reelected.

But a regular protest vote against Trump the person and the candidate, of 30% to 40%, is as big a problem for him as a 15% protest vote against Biden’s Middle East policy is for the Democrats, if not a bigger one.

Haley made that very point Tuesday night.

“Joe Biden is losing about 20 percent of the Democratic vote today, and many say it’s a sign of his weakness in November. Donald Trump is losing about 35 percent of the vote. That’s a flashing warning sign for Trump in November,” Haley said.

Biden, of course, is saddled with his own problems besides discontent among the Democratic base over support for Israel. Voters are increasingly concerned with the president’s age and ability to do the job effectively, an issue that was exacerbated by , which raised questions about the president’s memory.

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