‘Uncommitted’ Trying to Get Pennsylvania Voters to Call for Cease-fire

U.S. President Joe Biden (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images via JTA.org)

Internationally, President Joe Biden has stood by Israel. Beyond symbolic gestures, such as abstaining from a United Nations General Assembly vote calling for a cease-fire, the U.S. has not caved to pressure from the pro-Palestinian contingent in the president’s base.

Politically, Biden is gaining in the polls against Republican rival Donald Trump. The latest RealClearPolitics polling average has Biden trailing Trump in a head-to-head by just a point. The Democrat was down by more for most of the early months of the year.

The president is backing Israel and building momentum for the November general election. One is not necessarily related to the other. Yet he is doing both even as the “Uncommitted” movement, which calls for voters to write in “Uncommitted” in the Democratic Primary, launches in state after state.

It had already launched in Michigan, Wisconsin and other swing states. And at the end of March, it came to Pennsylvania.

An anonymous email from the campaign described it as an effort to call for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.” “We’re going to show President Biden and his administration that they’re losing the voters they need to win the November election,” the email added.

Pennsylvania’s primary is on April 23. The anonymous email includes a website, uncommittedpa.org, on which supporters can sign up to volunteer. A note at the bottom of the site says, “Paid for by Democratic Socialists of America.” The DSA has about 78,000 members and is perhaps best known for helping Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, get elected to Congress.

As the email states, Biden won Pennsylvania over Trump by 80,555 votes in 2020. The campaign’s goal is to get “over 40,000 write-in votes for ‘Uncommitted’ for president across the state of Pennsylvania.”

In Michigan, a state with a large Arab-American population, more than 100,000 people voted “Uncommitted.” The “Uncommitted” vote also received significant percentages in Minnesota, North Carolina and other states.

As a result, the “Uncommitted” movement has attracted media attention from The New York Times and other outlets. Yet its success may be exaggerated, according to Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and CEO of The Mellman Group.

“The press overwrote the Michigan story dramatically,” Mellman said. “We pointed out to people that ‘Uncommitted’ only did 2.5 points better after this whole campaign than it did against Barack Obama in 2012 when no one was asking anybody to vote ‘Uncommitted.’”

Mellman credited data journalists, such as Nate Silver, for pointing out that “Uncommitted” was “no big deal.”

“But the storytelling press thought they had a huge story. They wrote it up,” the pollster said. “They gave it hundreds of millions of dollars of free publicity going into other states.”

The problem with the narrative is that “nobody has ever explored the reason these people are voting uncommitted,” Mellman said. “We don’t know which ones are voting because of Israel Gaza and which ones are voting for other matters.”

Biden won 81.1% of the vote in Michigan. “Uncommitted” got 13.2%. Biden wins against no opponent is not much of a story, according to Mellman.

“You need something that’s more of a story,” he said.

Mellman also said that Biden “makes policy decisions based on what’s best for the United States and what’s best for Israel.”

“I don’t think political calculations factor in that much,” he added.

A Democratic voter uncommitted to President Joe Biden rallies outside a polling location at Oakman Elementary School in Dearborn, Michigan, on Feb. 27. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images via JTA.org)

At the same time, the president has tried to signal to pro-Palestinian voters in his base that he hears them, according to Ashley Koning, the director of the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

The U.S. abstained from the U.N. vote on the cease-fire resolution, allowing it to pass. Biden also said at a rally recently that pro-Palestinian protesters had a point.

“This is not a good narrative. This is not a good look,” Koning said of the “Uncommitted” vote.

The 2020 election was decided by tens of thousands of votes in a few swing states. The 2024 polls are close. Biden understands that he needs all the support he can get, according to Koning.

“All of this is a numbers game about who you can get to turn out,” she said.

It remains unclear if Biden will allow the “Uncommitted” vote to do more than push him to make symbolic gestures toward Israel, according to Koning.

“That remains to be seen if it becomes something more prominent or something more actionable,” she said. “It’s one of many issues he’s trying to juggle.”

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  1. Abstaining on that U.N. vote was not symbolic. It was the first time that the U.S. abstained on supporting Israel in the U.N. and it’s understood worldwide that this is a significant message of the U.S., under Biden, separating from it’s once solid ally. It started with Obama and now it increases with Biden. When Israel enters Rafah, what will Biden do?


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