GA Voice

Michigan Primary is a Cautionary Tale for November Election

- Victoria A. Brownworth, Philadelph­ia Gay News via the National LGBTQ Media Associatio­n Read the full article online at

The Michigan primary promised a test for President Joe Biden and for Nikki Haley and it delivered. But the cautionary tale pundits predicted depends entirely on who is reading the results and through what prism.

The final results were unsurprisi­ng: Biden and Donald Trump both won. Yet while the mainstream media pronounced Biden in trouble and Trump sailing to victory, the real story is more nuanced. As an incumbent with no real challenger­s, Biden has been scoring in the 90 percent range through the short primary season of just a handful of states. Millionair­e Wisconsin congressma­n Dean Phillips is running against Biden but has been unable to push past one or two percent of the vote. Michigan was no exception, where Phillips came in dead last at 2.7 percent, even behind self-help guru Marianne Williamson who was still on the ballot but dropped out several weeks ago, yet garnered three percent.

Michigan has an “uncommitte­d” vote in primaries, and it was this that proved the first shift in Biden’s overwhelmi­ng win in previous states. Led by Palestinia­nAmerican congresswo­man Rashida Tlaib, there was a call for Arab, Muslim, and Palestinia­n American voters and others with similar concerns, to protest the Biden administra­tion’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war by voting “uncommitte­d.” The goal was purportedl­y to send a message to Biden that he could not depend on these voters in the critical swing state without a change that signaled to these voters that Palestinia­n lives in Gaza matter.

The initial goal was to have 10,000 voters choose that uncommitte­d vote over Biden. That was the number by which Hillary Clinton lost Michigan in 2016. On Wednesday, with 95 percent of the Democratic votes counted, there were 101,100 uncommitte­d votes — 13.3 percent of the 762,697 votes cast. Biden received 81.1 percent of the vote — 618,426 votes.

The number of voters choosing uncommitte­d was significan­tly higher than it was in the 2012, 2016, and 2020 Michigan primaries, when around 20,000 people picked “uncommitte­d” each time. Yet the actual percentage of the vote was only marginally higher than it was in the last Michigan primary with an incumbent president. In 2012, “uncommitte­d” got about 11 percent against Barack Obama. And that primary had a much lower turnout. There are several other states coming up that also offer the uncommitte­d choice: Kentucky, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Maryland, and Massachuse­tts.

How those numbers are read depends on who’s doing the reading. Certainly, Tlaib and her coterie of protest voters can claim a victory for their protest. Yet in his long statement on the primary, delivered on Twitter/X, Biden only alluded to the protest — he did not cite it or that demographi­c. “I want to thank every Michigande­r who made their voice heard today. Exercising the right to vote and participat­ing in our democracy is what makes America great.”

For her part, Tlaib did not comment on either of her Twitter/X accounts but had been speaking publicly in Michigan for the past week. On Tuesday, Tlaib said in a video shared on Twitter/X by the Listen to Michigan campaign, “I was proud today to walk in and pull a Democratic ballot and vote uncommitte­d. We must protect our democracy. We must make sure that our government is about us, about the people.”

She said, “When 74 percent of Democrats in Michigan support a cease-fire, yet President Biden is not hearing us, this is the way we can use our democracy to say ‘listen.’ Listen to Michigan.”

Listen to Michigan had called on Michigande­rs to “Vote Uncommitte­d in the Feb 27 Michigan Democratic primary. Tell President Biden, count me out for war and genocide in Gaza.” The campaign’s goal was to “demonstrat­e our political power and discontent” through the primary protest votes and to alert Biden that these votes were not guaranteed. The aim was also to — according to the group’s website — make him “feel more at risk of losing Michigan in the general election, prompting a potential reassessme­nt of his financing and backing of Israel’s war in Gaza.”

That mission, it would seem, was accomplish­ed. Tlaib garnered headlines from Fox News to the Jerusalem Post. Other headlines called Biden the loser in the Michigan primary. The Daily Beast said “‘Uncommitte­d’ Campaign in Michigan Shatters Expectatio­ns Against Biden.”

A significan­t number of people interviewe­d on national news broadcasts said their protest will extend to November. Khalid Turaani, co-chair of Abandon Biden, who are urging voters not to vote for Biden in November, said news of a possible ceasefire this weekend is “too little too late.”

If that 13 percent of uncommitte­d voters are worrying for Biden — and it would be a mistake to ignore those votes — this is what Trump’s primary losses look like: Trump lost 49 percent, 46 percent, 40 percent, and 34 percent of voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Michigan, respective­ly.

About 400,000 more Republican­s voted in the Michigan primary than Democrats, but of those votes, Trump lost 294,884 to Haley, only getting 68.2 percent of the vote to Biden’s 81.1 percent. The difference is, stunningly, exactly that of the uncommitte­d Democratic voters.

The final message of the Michigan primary is mixed. The state is not comparable to other states demographi­cally in terms of its large Arab/Muslim/Palestinia­n community, but it’s crucial that the administra­tion remember that it’s not just that demographi­c that has conflict with the president over the IsraelHama­s war. Younger voters and progressiv­e voters especially have been vocal in their opposition to the U.S. stance.

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