The anti-war protest secured a huge primary vote. What happens next?

<span>Democratic voters rally outside of a polling location in Dearborn, Michigan, on 27 February 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images</span>
Democratic voters rally outside of a polling location in Dearborn, Michigan, on 27 February 2024.Photograph: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
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A key Democratic voting bloc intensely focused on Joe Biden’s support for Israel in the war on Gaza could sway the 2024 election in November – depending on what happens in the war and how Biden works to win back these voters.

The anti-war vote has shown in recent weeks that it is both organized and effective at using its voice at the polls, displaying one of the most effective grassroots electoral mobilisations on the left in recent history.

Hundreds of thousands of voters across multiple states have chosen uncommitted options over supporting Biden after organizers swiftly moved to get the word out about the protest vote.

Related: How the uncommitted movement rocked Biden over Gaza

The movement, which started in Michigan, announced plans to expand nationally this week, with the next push at the ballot coming in Wisconsin in early April.

  • Michigan: 101,623 votes for uncommitted, about 13% of total votes

  • Minnesota: 45,914 votes for uncommitted, nearly 19% of total votes

  • Hawaii: 455 votes for uncommitted, about 29% of total votes

  • Washington: 89,753 votes for uncommitted delegates, nearly 10% of total vote

The growing discontent over the war will have a seat at the Democratic national convention this summer, where more than 20 delegates from states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Hawaii and Washington will be “uncommitted”. As other states continue to vote in primaries after Biden secured the nomination, more delegates could be added.

Outside of the protest vote, these organizers have spent months showing up at Biden’s events to call out his administration’s stance on the war, a preview of how they could use a small group of delegates unified around the message at the convention to put focus on the US’s role in the war.

The organizers of the uncommitted vote in states like Michigan, Minnesota and Washington have been clear that their movement isn’t anti-Biden or pro-Trump, but that the president’s moves on Gaza are critical for their ballots in November. They have cast the protest vote as a way to send a warning to Biden well in advance of November, so he has time to listen to the dedicated Democratic voters who believe he’s out of step on this issue.

Trump has largely evaded Gaza as an issue in his re-election bid, recently saying Israel must “finish the problem” and insisting the war wouldn’t have happened if he were still in charge. Organizers and voters who chose uncommitted aren’t even entertaining Trump as an option to win their votes in November – it’s clear he’s not aligned with their values.

But they have also consistently pushed back on the idea that Biden losing could be their fault, saying the onus should be on the person with power to end a war – the president. They have pointed to the broad support – more than three-fourths of Democrats, and a majority of Americans in all parties – for a ceasefire.

“One of the main reasons for this intervention was because we already felt like so many people in our community were giving up on voting for Biden in November,” said Waleed Shahid, a Democratic strategist who helped come up with the uncommitted idea in Michigan. “Some of those voters can’t be persuaded any more, but a big chunk of them can – and it’s up to President Biden to earn their support.”

Some of those voters can’t be persuaded any more, but a big chunk of them can – and it’s up to President Biden to earn their support

Waleed Shahid

Without these policy changes, some of the movement’s supporters will not vote for Biden, probably leaving the presidential bubble blank or choosing a third-party candidate. Others planned to use their vote in the presidential primaries to push Biden on the issue, but see the stakes as too stark in November to either leave it blank or vote against Biden.

In what’s expected to be a very close presidential election, every subset of voters matters, especially in swing states.

Michigan’s uncommitted movement snagged more than 100,000 votes, showing Biden it could sway the election. Biden won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes in 2020, but Trump won it in 2016 by under 11,000 votes.

Organizers in Wisconsin want to show the same, setting a goal of at least 20,682 votes – the margin Biden won the state by in 2020. Even Minnesota, often reliably blue in presidential contests these days, saw nearly 46,000 voters go uncommitted, slightly more than the margin Hillary Clinton won Minnesota by over Trump in 2016.

“There are so many people that I know already that aren’t going to vote in November,” said Asma Mohammed, who helped organize the uncommitted vote in Minnesota. “I don’t blame them for that, I blame Biden. He needs to be a better candidate. I know people who are planning to vote provided only if he changes his policy. If he can do that, so many people will rally around. But that’s up to him.”

Democratic officials and Biden allies say the president has gotten the message from the protest vote, and his actions show an attempt to assuage this constituency – the vice-president announcing support for a temporary ceasefire, building a pier for supplies into Gaza and aid drops. The US also drafted a United Nations security council resolution last week calling for an “immediate and sustained ceasefire” and a hostage deal. And this week it abstained on a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, allowing it to be passed by the security council.

NBC News reported that Biden’s poll numbers in Georgia and Michigan dropping over the Gaza war had him “seething”.

“The president believes making your voice heard and participating in our democracy is fundamental to who we are as Americans,” the Biden campaign said in a statement. “He shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. He’s working tirelessly to that end.”

But the movement says the actions so far are more of a rebrand than a change of course. They want to see an immediate and permanent ceasefire, an end to military funding sent to Israel and a reinstatement of the United Nations relief agency and humanitarian aid.


Other efforts to use the ballot line as a protest in previous years have not spread nationally in the US.

In 2008, Democratic voters in Michigan chose uncommitted as a way to support Obama when he wasn’t on the ballot there, and the Occupy movement in 2012 tried to use it in Iowa.

An organized, vocal movement around this voting option across the country, singularly focused on an anti-war message, is a new use of voter power, one designed to push the president on an issue the way a primary competitor often would.

The implications extend beyond Biden: if a swath of Democrats decide to stay home, races down the ballot could be affected, too.

I’m going to vote [for] the person that is going to make sure to create a path for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza

Khalid Omar

Layla Elabed, an organizer with Listen to Michigan and the sister of Rashida Tlaib, a US representative, said she hopes people will not stay home in November because these other races are crucial and a way for uncommitted voters to cast ballots for those who have supported a ceasefire.

Elabed, who is Palestinian American, said she voted for and supported Biden in 2020, so his stance on the war has felt alienating.

“I feel very betrayed, and it’s going to be hard for me to put my support behind a candidate that isn’t in the White House to work for me or work for people like me,” she said.

Other Democrats have said the movement detracts from the president’s successes. They say voters will have to choose between the two options, Trump or Biden, no matter their flaws. Choosing to sit out or vote for a third party benefits Trump, they say.

At the polls across the country, Democratic voters said the war played into their vote, but they often weighed other issues, too, like abortion access and threats to democracy, and – most often – the fear of Trump regaining the White House.

Linda Nwosu, a 79-year-old Georgia voter, said Gaza was important to her vote and that she considers what Netanyahu’s government is doing is a genocide. But she said democracy and women’s rights meant she’s voting for Biden.

“The war in Gaza is terrible, but we gotta get Biden back,” she said.

Others aren’t sure what they’ll do in November – it mostly depends on what Biden does.

Khalid Omar, a Minneapolis voter who spread the word to the community to vote uncommitted there, said the uncommitted vote was the “best way to practice democracy” to get the Biden administration to listen to Democratic voters who want a permanent ceasefire.

“I’m not going to be sitting out this November, I’m going to vote,” Omar said. “And I’m going to vote [for] the person that is going to make sure to create a path for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.”


Biden’s allies, like Tim Walz, the Minnesota governor, have said it’s clear the uncommitted campaign has made its message heard, but also that they expect most of its supporters in the primaries to return to Biden in November.

“Democrats are going to come home,” Walz told the New York Times. “They know that the choice is democracy versus totalitarian chaos.”

Elabed said she had received tons of hateful messages on social media from other Democrats calling her names, saying they hope she’ll get deported, which she finds “disgusting”.

Primary votes don’t transfer to November, she pushes back – primaries are supposed to be a way for voters to use their voices within their own party for accountability. The campaign hasn’t advocated for people voting a certain way in November at all, she said.

“The [uncommitted] voters are not going to vote in a monolith,” she said. “Come November, everyone is going to have to vote their conscience.”