Support for “Uncommitted” Runs Deep Enough to Threaten Biden

Drilling down into the county results and behind the scenes details of Tuesday’s results shows Michigan wasn’t a flash in the pan. Democratic disgust with Joe Biden’s genocide support is deep and widespread — enough to seriously threaten his reelection.

Joe Biden speaks on the Senate's recent passage of the National Security Supplemental Bill, which provides military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, on February 13, 2024, in Washington, DC.(Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

The central conceit of the 2024 Joe Biden reelection campaign is that the president can ignore voter anger over his support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza, but that he will still turn out the broad, historic voter coalition that brought him to power four years ago simply because Donald Trump is his opponent. That gamble got another major dent on Super Tuesday, when voters turned out in droves in several Democratic primaries to register their indifference to his reelection by voting “uncommitted” or “no preference.”

Organized over the space of a week and on what could at times only generously be called shoestring budgets, the hundreds of thousands of voters that antiwar activists were able to turn out for the effort across the country is a testament to the deep dissatisfaction among key parts of the Democratic base with President Biden only eight months out from the election, particularly over his handling of Israel’s war. More alarming for Biden and the Democratic establishment, it shows there are enough disgruntled voters around the country to potentially cost him key states in November and jeopardize his reelection, if he doesn’t change course.

Great Shakes

As of the time of writing, nearly forty-six thousand voters (18.9 percent) chose “uncommitted” over the president in Minnesota, leaving the state on track to send eleven delegates to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in August. In what should be an ominous sign for the Biden reelection campaign, that number is higher than the slim 44,593-vote margin that Hillary Clinton won the state by against Trump in 2016.

It’s another remarkable result for the “uncommitted” movement, which sent tremors through the White House and Democratic Party circles last week by turning out nearly 101,000 voters (13 percent) in purple Michigan, after only three weeks of organizing and only $200,000 of funding. This time, the “uncommitted” campaign — driven by a coalition of Muslim Americans, anti-Zionist Jewish groups, young voters, and left-wing organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) — had even less to work with: eight days and only $20,000. Many of the state’s pro-cease-fire voters called up by phone-bankers in advance of the vote didn’t even know about the campaign.

Nevertheless, after making hundreds of thousands of calls in the days leading up to the vote, the campaign was responsible for the president’s weakest result of the night, with Biden far underperforming the last two times an incumbent president was on a primary ballot in the state. The 2012 Democratic primary in Minnesota saw “uncommitted” get only 3.7 percent (643 votes) against Barack Obama, while the closest equivalent in the 2020 GOP primary (write-in votes) drew 2.3 percent (3,280) against Trump.

“Uncommitted” pulled in its strongest showings in the populous Hennepin (26 percent) and Ramsey (24 percent) Counties, respectively home to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. The president’s dominance in both was crucial to his ability to successfully nullify Trump’s advantage in the state’s rural areas in 2020, Hennepin County in particular, where Biden ran up  a massive lead of 322,000 votes on the back of surging voter turnout in urban counties. Tuesday night, Hennepin delivered Biden his single worst performance in all of the state’s counties.

But Minnesota was far from the only bright red warning sign for Biden Tuesday night, suggesting that the campaign’s looming troubles in the Midwest are creeping beyond that region.

On the East Coast, another battleground state, North Carolina, saw 88,021 voters (12.7 percent) check “no preference” on the Democratic primary ballot. As in Minnesota, that result was achieved after only a week of organizing, according to Travis Wayne, cochair of North Carolina Triangle DSA, one of several of the organization’s chapters that formed the coalition of groups driving the No Preference Y’All campaign. What followed was a “furiously quick campaign,” he says, that unlike both Minnesota and Michigan was driven entirely by unpaid volunteer work.

The total of “no preference” votes in North Carolina far outdid the 20,085 voters (2.5 percent) who in the 2020 GOP primary pulled the lever for “no preference” over Trump, who still won the state that year for the second time in a row. More significantly, it also beat the 74,481-vote margin by which Trump beat Biden in the state later that year. According to Wayne, the campaign set that particular number as its target “to demonstrate the power of North Carolinian voters to send a message to Biden that the demand for a ceasefire is strong enough to decide the election for him, in the heart of the South.”

“We can swing an election entirely with antiwar votes,” he says.

A New “No Preference” Electorate

The No Preference Y’All campaign was centered on three core strategies: targeting voter outreach to mosques, organizing on campuses, and speaking to voters at the polls, or “poll greeting.” According to internal numbers from North Carolina Triangle DSA, locations where poll greeting took place ended up with an average “no preference” vote of 29.3 percent, roughly ten points higher than voting sites where there were none.

The White House may be soothed by the fact that “no preference” fell far short of the total it racked up against Barack Obama in the state’s 2012 primary, when it won nearly 201,000 votes (20.8 percent). But that was a year in which Obama’s reelection chances were widely viewed as in peril, with the then president’s dramatic underperformance in primaries in North Carolina and the rest of the South — though not only the South — flagged by analysts as a dangerous sign for his general election chances.

Beyond that, Obama’s 2012 underperformance in North Carolina was also largely driven by dissatisfaction among the white, rural areas that Democrats no longer prioritize in their voter coalitions, and which Trump has dominated in the past two elections. This year, it was North Carolina’s most urban and populous counties, responsible for a large share of the Democratic vote in the state the last two presidential elections, that drove the “no preference” vote against Biden.

The seven populous counties that delivered Clinton and Biden the lion’s share of their respective vote totals against Trump in the state — Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Cumberland, Durham, and Buncombe — were responsible for just shy of half (49 percent) of North Carolina’s “no preference” votes against Biden. In 2012, they delivered a little under a quarter (23.5 percent) of the total “no preference” votes against Obama, and at a time when Democrats were more competitive in rural areas.

Another foreboding sign: the racially diverse Robeson County, for decades a Democratic stronghold that went twice for Obama before swinging hard for Trump the last two cycles, was responsible for Biden’s single weakest showing in the state (63 percent) and the strongest for “no preference” (37 percent). Four years ago, Robeson moved further toward Trump than any other county in the state, with twelve of its fourteen Native American–majority precincts going for the then incumbent.

In other words, if the “no preference” vote is a sign of things to come in the general election, Biden will not just have forfeited North Carolina’s rural voters — he stands to lose substantial voter turnout in the only parts of the state left that still vote heavily for Democrats.

Mountain of Opposition

The “uncommitted” and “no preference” vote carried threatening omens for the president come November in other states, even when the results were less dramatic.

Massachusetts saw “no preference” take 9.3 percent of the vote, one point less than its share against Obama in 2012, though only in percentage terms. In terms of raw vote total, nearly fifty-nine thousand voters (9.3 percent) came out to the polls on Tuesday to rebuke the president, nearly four times the number of voters who felt the need to do so twelve years ago, and fourteen times the number of GOP voters that similarly rebuked their president in 2020.

As elsewhere, the Massachusetts campaign achieved this with little time and even fewer resources. The coalition only met for the first time last Friday morning, says Massachusetts Peace Action executive director Cole Harrison (though some of the groups involved had begun organizing around the issue earlier that week), and raised the bulk of the $5,000 they used to fund the campaign between Sunday night and Monday morning this week. The result was a “meaningful showing” on the night, Harrison says.

“We want to change the policy, we want a cease-fire, we want them to stop sending arms, we want immediate effective humanitarian aid,” he says. “We saw a change in tone from the vice president on Sunday, and that was positive, but there’s no policy change yet.”

Over in Colorado, which went overwhelmingly blue the last two cycles, the “noncommitted delegate” took 8.8 percent of the vote as of the time of writing, or just under fifty thousand votes. This was the first year the option was available on Colorado’s Democratic ballot, and the state’s 2012 primary was a caucus that Obama, because of the unique nature of that system, won with 100 percent of the vote, making this particular number somewhat difficult to interpret.

The incumbent Trump’s performance in the state in 2020 may offer a point of comparison, though. Trump won 92 percent of the Colorado vote that year, with his five challengers taking 6.8 percent between them, or 52,381 votes. By contrast, with a bit less than a fifth of the vote still to be counted, “noncommitted delegate” and Minnesota representative Dean Phillips, the sole other Biden challenger on the ballot, has already taken a markedly higher share (11.9 percent) and total (67,599) of votes against Biden than Trump’s rivals had against him. As it stands, “noncomitted delegate” will be going into the DNC with seven delegates.

“Uncommitted” was also on the ballot in solid red Tennessee, Alabama, and Iowa, where it drew 7.9 percent, 6 percent, and 3.9 percent of the vote, respectively. In Hawaii’s caucus, it drew 29 percent of the vote, or 455 votes, netting “uncommitted” another seven delegates. That puts the total number of delegates opposed to Biden’s support for the Israeli genocide who will be at the DNC this year at twenty-seven — a potential embarrassment for the president come August.

A Tale of Widespread Disgust

One key takeaway from the result is that support for “uncommitted” among Democratic voters is far broader than the heavily Muslim and Arab American parts of Michigan many assumed it would be limited to. Tuesday’s vote shows that, just as in Michigan, it’s the critical demographic of young voters who are helping drive the protest vote against Biden.

Minnesota saw “uncommitted” win big in counties with large Somali American populations like Hennepin and Ramsey, but those counties also happen to be where many of the state’s colleges and universities are clustered. Other Minnesota counties with higher-learning institutions also ran up large totals for “uncommitted,” like Rice County (22 percent), home to Carleton College; Olmsted County (16 percent), site of the University of Minnesota–Rochester; and St Louis County (15 percent), where the University of Minnesota–Duluth is located.

Similarly, North Carolina counties home to large numbers of college students were among those that most contributed to driving up the “no preference” vote in the state. Wake County, home to eight colleges and universities, including North Carolina State University, saw the single biggest vote total against Biden of any county: 13,499 votes (12.7 percent). Durham County, the location of North Carolina Central University, saw the “no preference” vote jump by 6 percentage points and three thousand votes since 2012. In the typically solid blue Orange County, which contains the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, support for “no preference” leapt by eight points.

Likewise, in Massachusetts, “uncommitted” had its best showings in cities and towns with institutions of higher learning and high numbers of college-age voters, including Somerville (23 percent), Cambridge (17 percent), Northampton (16 percent), Medford (15 percent), and Boston (14 percent).

This is no comfort for the Biden team. The president’s 2020 win was powered by a massive spike in youth turnout from four years earlier and provided critical vote margins for Biden in battleground states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, all of which Clinton lost to Trump. In fact, the only presidential election that Democrats have won this century without turnout among under-thirties exceeding 50 percent was Obama’s fraught 2012 effort, with Democratic nominees falling to the GOP in 2000, 2004, and, famously, in 2016.

Picking a Side

As the Israeli destruction of Gaza continues, with famine and disease now rapidly spreading among survivors and a planned invasion of Rafah set to make an already unspeakable humanitarian crisis virtually apocalyptic, “uncommitted” organizers are looking to build on the momentum from the results where they deployed the most resources. The campaign is now recruiting volunteers to phonebank and get out the vote for next week’s primaries in Washington state and Wisconsin.

If the “no preference” total is taken as a proxy for Democratic voters who plan to stay home in November, the Biden team should be very worried. The results of the past two weeks show there are enough left-leaning voters disgusted with the president’s backing of the Israeli genocide to imperil his chances  in both blue and purple states Democrats have won the last two cycles, and push those they have narrowly lost further out of reach.

Though there are signs the White House is listening, it remains stubbornly committed to not changing course in practical terms. After refusing to mention the “uncommitted” vote after last week’s Michigan primary, the Biden campaign issued a statement after Minnesota affirming that “making your voice heard and participating in our democracy is fundamental to who we are as Americans,” and insisting that Biden is “working tirelessly” toward “an end to the violence” — even as he continues circumventing Congress to send Israel weapons and just told Israeli officials to “help us help you” keep the war going.

Meanwhile, the president issued a statement yesterday praising hard-right GOP candidate Nikki Haley and warmly telling her voters that “there is a place for them in my campaign.”