The “Uncommitted” Movement Is Hugely Popular

Large numbers of Democratic primary voters are rejecting Joe Biden over Israel’s murderous war on Gaza. The president risks undermining any moral argument for his reelection in November.

A Democratic voter uncommitted to President Joe Biden outside of a polling location on February 27, 2024 in Dearborn, Michigan. (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

Last Tuesday, it was rainy and unseasonably cold in New York. I came home from work, changed out of my wet socks and headed back out into the grim weather to my voting spot. When I got there, an ebulliently helpful poll worker offered me a pen. I didn’t need it.

That’s because I voted for no one, leaving my ballot blank. I wanted to join people all over the country in sending President Joe Biden a message: stop the genocide in Gaza.

I was not alone in trekking out into the inhospitable climate to vote for nobody that day. Roughly thirty-nine thousand New York State voters did the same, about 12 percent of primary voters. “Blank” accounted for about a quarter of Brooklyn’s primary votes. About 11 percent of Connecticut’s primary voters voted “uncommitted,” as did an impressive 14.5 percent of Rhode island’s (almost 30 percent in Providence).

On the same day, 48,162 people — 8 percent of primary voters — in  Wisconsin joined us, voting “uninstructed,” which implies that delegates aren’t obliged to vote for anyone in particular (we don’t have that option in New York, hence the blank ballots). Wisconsin’s results were even more significant since, unlike New York and Rhode Island, Wisconsin is a battleground state. As my Jacobin colleague Ben Burgis has written, the campaign organizers in Wisconsin had set a goal of getting twenty-three thousand uncommitted votes, to exceed the margins by which Biden had beaten Donald Trump in Wisconsin in 2020, and by which Hillary Clinton had lost to Trump in that state in 2016. The outcome, then, exceeded the goal twice over.

All over the country, this “uncommitted” campaign has been organized by pro-Palestinian, antiwar groups, including Muslim and Palestinian organizations, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The results so far reflect a remarkable amount of organizing in a very short time — and the widespread anger among registered Democratic voters over Biden’s awful complicity in the Gaza genocide.

The campaign started in Arab American communities in the swing state of Michigan, with one hundred thousand uncommitted votes in that state’s primary on February 17, 13 percent of primary voters. Last month, the momentum continued, with 19 percent of Minnesota primary voters marking their ballots uncommitted and a whopping 29.1 percent of Hawaii primary voters.

Now more than half a million Democratic primary voters have cast a vote — most of which, we can assume, were cast against Biden’s war and in solidarity with the people of Gaza. As John Nichols of the Nation has reported, that means that so far, twenty-five Democratic convention delegates are uncommitted. The campaigns continue, targeting voters in the remaining primaries.

There are already signs that this ongoing avalanche of protest votes — combined with Israel’s shocking attack on World Central Kitchen aid workers last week — is having an effect on the president and his circle. On Thursday, after weeks of pathetic bleatings of distress over civilian casualties that have not been matched with concrete action to stop the war, Biden made his strongest plea to Benjamin Netanyahu yet, threatening, in a phone call with the Israeli prime minister, to condition future aid to Israel on “steps to reduce civilian harm” and on allowing humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.

The president’s message to Israel hardly matched the severity of the situation — after all, it was not a condition, but rather a threat to condition. But it was the toughest Biden has been on Israel since the war began in October. After that conversation, Israel did commit to allowing more food and supplies into Gaza and claimed they would take more measures to limit civilian casualties.

The uncommitted votes may also be affecting the outlook of powerful Senate Democrats. Also on Thursday, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat close to Biden, told CNN that the United States was “at the point” that aid to Israel should be conditional on a change in its conduct of the war in Gaza, noting, “I’ve never said that before.”

Coons is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. One of his colleagues on that committee, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, also a Democrat — whose state has a vigorous uncommitted campaign underway — had said Sunday that Biden needed to “back up his ‘no excuses’ language with real action.” Van Hollen told ABC News, “Until the Netanyahu government allows more assistance into Gaza, to help people who are literally starving to death, we should not be sending more bombs.” The Maryland senator is reportedly considering legislative options to block weapons transfers.

What’s more, the New York Times reported Thursday that a plan to sell $18 billion worth of fighter jets to Israel reminds in limbo, which, according to the paper, “strongly suggests” that the top two Democratic officials on that committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York and Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, have not signed off on the deal.

Even figures as centrist as Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and Clinton’s running mate in 2016, are signaling that they now want to end this war. On Friday, Kaine called on Biden to investigate Israel’s bombing of the World Central Kitchen and, more remarkably, stop sending bombs and other offensive weapons to Israel.

In an equally dramatic development on Friday, forty House Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, sent a letter to Biden expressing great dismay over his Israel policy and calling on the president to hold off on any weapons transfers or military aid to Israel until an investigation of the recent attack on aid workers can be conducted, and make any aid conditional on following international law.
All of this is still a long way from forcing Israel to stop the bombing. But it’s clear that Israel’s atrocities, widespread protests, and perhaps most of all, the uncommitted votes and the threat of losing electoral power, have scared powerful Democrats and may be beginning to move even Biden.

The most important reason Biden should end Israel’s war on Gaza is to end the suffering and death; it’s appalling that Biden has the power to save so many human lives yet is not doing so. But, also not insignificantly, the protest vote shows that if he continues to fund Israel’s massacre of Palestinian children, Biden’s voting base could reject him, making it even harder for him to beat Trump.

The president is clearly beginning to realize that he risks undermining any moral argument for his reelection in November. If this genocide continues with no meaningful intervention on Biden’s part, the call to vote blue will seem deeply offensive to many decent people. It will become insulting to say, we must vote for Biden because of democracy, to maintain stability, or because Trump is a fascist. How do you vote against a “fascist” and for a racist, exterminationist war? How do you vote for democracy, yet for a war that the majority of Americans reject? How do you vote for stability, yet for an all-out assault on Palestinian institutions and civilization?

With the world’s eyes on Gaza,  words like “fascism” and “democracy” will sound like evasive abstractions, feeble consultant-generated talking points. Dead and dismembered children, and bombed hospitals on the other hand, are all too real and concrete. Let’s hope for Biden, the mounting pile of empty and uninstructed ballots are tangible, too.