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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

February 29: Putting Michigan’s “Uncommitted” Vote in Perspective

There was some planned overreaction to the Michigan Democratic presidential primary on February 27 that I tried to address at New York:

It’s rare that someone winning a primary with around 80 percent of the vote has to be on the defensive. But that’s where Joe Biden is after a smashing victory in Michigan marred by an organized effort to protest his Middle East policies via “uncommitted” votes.

Organizers of anti-Biden protests in Michigan wanted to show that his largely unconditional support for Israel in its war with Hamas might alienate enough voters (especially the state’s large Arab-American population) to cost him the election in November. So they urged a vote for “uncommitted” in the February 27 primary. And they were really smart to set expectations low, as Politico Playbook explained:

From a percentage point of view, the “uncommitted” vote in Democratic presidential primaries in Michigan peaked at 10.7 percent when Barack Obama was running for reelection in 2012. It was only slightly higher this time around: “Uncommitted” took 13 percent of the vote, with 95 percent of the vote tallied. And it has been predictably strong in pockets of strong support for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza and a break in unconditional U.S. support for Israel. “Uncommitted” is winning heavily in Dearborn, where Arab American Muslims are a majority of the population, and it’s doing relatively well in Washtenaw County, where the University of Michigan is located.

Still, Biden trounced “uncommitted” — not to mention actual named opponents Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson — handily. If you translate the “uncommitted” vote into support for Biden’s general-election opponents (either Donald Trump or the multiple non-major-party candidates likely to appear on the ballot), these results are ominous. That’s exactly what “uncommitted” organizers hoped would be the case in order to influence the administration’s policies toward Israel and Gaza or punish Biden for his recalcitrance.

Biden’s reelection campaign is a vast gamble on the power of comparisons between the incumbent and Trump, even among voters unhappy with Uncle Joe’s record or current trajectory. Losing less than one in every five votes in a Democratic primary may become a data point for the general-election campaign in Michigan, and even a reminder to Team Biden that it cannot take Black, youth, Arab-American, or Muslim-American votes for granted. It sent a message to the president’s campaign, but it’s not quite the crack of doom you may hear suggested by Biden-haters in and beyond both parties.

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