The Impact of ‘Uncommitted’ in Michigan


The Feb. 27 primary in Michigan had some clear results and some less clear results. They were all significant.

President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump each scored unsurprising, lopsided victories in their respective party primaries as they both continued marching toward their party’s nominations for president in the November election.

Biden received 81% of the votes in his contest, and Trump received 68% of the votes in his. Trump’s closest vote-getter was former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley with 26% of the vote. Biden’s closest vote-getter was “uncommitted,” with 13%. And therein lies the rub.

In the lead-up to the primary, pro-Palestinian groups coalesced around a “Listen to Michigan” campaign which encouraged voters in the Democratic primary to vote for “uncommitted” rather than Biden in protest over the president’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The effort was led by some prominent Democrats, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian American, and got a lot of attention. But whether the vote results were a “success” is in the eyes of the beholder.

The campaign’s 13% of votes accounted for more than 100,000 Michiganders who chose “uncommitted” rather than Biden. That was more than five times more “uncommitted” voters in this year’s Michigan’s Democratic primary than in 2012, 2016 or 2020. But, as a percentage of the vote total, the “uncommitted” campaign’s 13% number was less impressive, as it was only modestly higher than in the last Michigan primary featuring an incumbent president in 2012, when “uncommitted” got 11% against Barack Obama.

The focus on Michigan — which favored Biden over Trump in 2020 — was based in part on the state’s high percentage of Arab and Muslim Americans. In Wayne County, which has the highest concentration of Arab American voters in the country, 17% of the voters backed “uncommitted.” And inside Dearborn, where Arab Americans are a majority of the city, up to 75% of voters in many precincts opted for “uncommitted” over Biden. In Washtenaw County, where the University of Michigan is located, another 17% of voters chose “uncommitted.”

It is no secret that large segments of the Arab American community are angered by Biden’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas, his refusal to call for an immediate cease-fire and the death toll and mounting humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

But it isn’t at all clear that the protest vote in Michigan was significant enough to cause real concern — particularly since the animosity of the Arab American and Muslim communities toward Trump makes it highly unlikely that they will vote for Trump over Biden in their likely November matchup. But those voters may choose not to vote at all — which has some Democratic strategists worried about the impact of such a choice in a battleground state like Michigan.

Michigan is the second primary state in which anti-Israel forces have sought to urge protest votes. The first effort fell flat in New Hampshire, where a “cease-fire” write-in effort only got 1,500 votes or roughly 1.2% of the total votes. The “uncommitted” organizers pledge to continue their efforts in other states. However, we don’t expect the effort to have much impact, as no other upcoming state has similar demographics to Michigan.


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