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How the uncommitted vote against Biden’s Gaza policy is going 'national'

Washington, DC – The organisers of Listen to Michigan — an effort to protest Joe Biden’s policy towards Israel’s war in Gaza — have a message for the United States president: The conflict is not a “niche” issue for only some segments of the political left.

Listen to Michigan emerged earlier this year as a grassroots movement focused on the state’s primary. It called on voters to cast “uncommitted votes” instead of backing Biden’s reelection effort, in an attempt to signal displeasure over the president’s stance on the war.

But that movement has kicked off a domino effect in other key states, with similar “protest votes” emerging. On Monday, Listen to Michigan unveiled plans to take its campaign to the national stage.

“Since we launched our campaign in Michigan, critics have gone out of their way to minimise the momentum of ‘uncommitted’ and Listen to Michigan and what this movement has gained as a niche issue of the left,” Layla Elabed, a key Michigan organiser, said during a news conference on Monday.

“Today, we launched our national movement to let you all know uncommitted voters aren’t going anywhere, and we aren’t backing down until we achieve a permanent ceasefire.”

Okay, but if enough people don't vote for Biden, the obvious result would be Trump winning the election. Since Trump is even more pro-Israel than Biden, movements like Listen to Michigan sound self-defeating.

I'm wondering how serious these movements are about not voting for Biden, and/or if any of them have addressed the (obvious?) counterargument against doing that above.

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    I was under the impression that "uncommitted" was more of a primary thing. It had no effect on the outcome there. But aside from that: In an entrenched two-party system like ours, threatening to stay home is pretty much the only move available to the smaller side in an intra-party conflict. I would guess they're not serious though. It takes both a lot of discipline, and tolerance for being shouted down by the party mainstream who seem to just want to blame Netanyahu, make empty statements about two-state solution, but avoid substantive change to US support for Israel.
    – Pete W
    Commented Mar 20 at 3:53
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    I feel like this question is subjective. How does one define "serious"? If you asked someone who didn't vote for Biden in the primary because of X issue, someone who didn't vote for Biden in the general election because of X issue, and someone who voted for Biden in both despite X issue, they would all probably describe their position as "serious," and might well claim that their stance is the only one that people who feel seriously about the issue should take (X issue, because this is true going beyond people whose votes are primarily driven by the war in the Gaza Strip).
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Mar 20 at 3:59
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    @Obie2.0 for the purposes of this question, define 'serious' as "I'm not voting for Biden in the election".
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 20 at 4:12
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    @Allure Please clarify that in the question. "Uncommitted" is a primary elections thing and doesn't affect the fact that Biden will be the DNC candidate. Commented Mar 21 at 1:30

4 Answers 4

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You are missing the point - this is an anti-war protest.

As a majority in U.S. now disapprove of Israeli action in Gaza, ABC News reports that the 'Uncommitted' movement plans to keep pressuring Biden over Israel’s war through November:

"We aren't backing down until we achieve a permanent cease-fire. Voting uncommitted in a democratic primary election is voters' way to tell Biden to listen to us," Elabed said ... they have no intention of endorsing a candidate yet, but after the convention they plan on supporting down-ballot races in November's general election.

That it is happening during an election year is coincidental. Should political protests stop during an election? That would be a stupid idea because voters in a democracy know that the best time to pressure a politician is when they come to ask you for your vote.

The Guardian report 'How the uncommitted movement rocked Biden over Gaza' also highlights that the aim is to pressure Biden to end the genocide and stop the war:

A memo written in late January by Waleed Shahid, a Democratic strategist, outlined the idea: use uncommitted in the Michigan presidential primary to “demonstrate a large rejection of President Biden’s backing and financing of the Israeli government’s war in Gaza”. The effort would generate free press to the anti-war movement ... It would “politicize and electoralize discontent” over the war.

... They made over 500,000 phone calls and sent more than 600,000 text messages to voters. They tapped into existing organizations on the ground who knew how to mobilize. Seasoned organizers led the effort, assisted by hundreds of volunteers both in Michigan and nationally, from progressive groups, faith communities and anti-war organizations. Groups like the Democratic Socialists of America and Our Revolution provided support, helping to canvass or send emails to voters. Jewish activists hosted phone banks ... They far exceeded their goal ... “I have never been a part of such an aggressive campaign before ...” said Layla Elabed, a longtime organizer and the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan

... “We knew that this is no longer an issue that is just a concern of Palestinians or Arabs or Muslims. There’s a groundswell of people that are saying no to genocide,” ... Already, it seems like the movement has jolted Biden – and other Democrats – on the issue. The White House’s language has changed, from seeking a “humanitarian pause” to a temporary ceasefire. Biden called for a port to be built to drop aid into Gaza. More Democrats have publicly started speaking out against the Biden administration on the issue. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, one of Biden’s allies, called for ousting Netanyahu’s government.

Activists say the change in language and attention does not include enough of an underlying change in policy. Their message has been clear and consistent throughout the campaigns: they want to see a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and an end to US funding and support of the war ... There’s a lot of time – and time for action – between now and November that gives Biden a chance to change course, organizers say. He can win a good chunk of these voters back by supporting a ceasefire. “It is our hope that Joe Biden would not risk his presidency, not risk the White House, to someone like Donald Trump,” Elabed said.

The argument that this helps Trump, who is more pro-Israel, is without merit as the Democrat anti-war protestors have no sway over Trump. They voted for Biden. He is currently the President of the United State of America with the power to end the unnecessary genocide. If he doesn't listen to his voters, and address their concern, why should his voters care to re-elect him? Democrats believe Trump won't listen to them and hence they are currently focusing the anti-war protests only on Biden. But it would be seen as a bigger betrayal for these protestors if Biden, for whom they voted, displays the same anti-democratic attitude as Trump. He would be no different than Trump.

Then there is the argument that if Biden capitulates to the anti-war protestors and pressures Israel to end the war, American Jews will abandon him and vote for Trump. This is rubbish as Biden has high approval rating among among American Jews who largely support the Democrats and tend to have different political opinions even on Israel and Palestine. There’s no Jewish American consensus about the conflict in Israel and Gaza:

American Jews are not a monolith — “two Jews, three opinions” goes the old adage ... American Jews, who make up 2.4 percent of the overall electorate, are a solidly liberal group and have long been one of the Democratic Party’s core constituencies. According to a survey released by Pew Research Center in 2020, 71 percent of Jews identified as or leaned Democratic.

... A 2019 survey of Gallup polling data noted that Jews are the most liberal-leaning religious group in the United States. American Jews overwhelmingly disapproved of Donald Trump’s presidency, even as he courted and won over more politically conservative, religiously observant Orthodox Jews with his uncritical embrace of Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Recent surveys showed American Jews in strong support of President Joe Biden; in an April 2022 survey by the Jewish Electorate Institute, the president had a 63 percent approval rating among Jewish voters, 21 points higher than his approval rating among the general public.

... When pollsters working for the Jewish Electorate Institute asked specific questions about Israel and Palestine to 800 Jewish American voters in 2021, what they found shocked some Jewish leaders. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they supported restricting US military aid to Israel so that it could not spend the money on expanding settlements in the West Bank. Roughly a quarter of those surveyed said they agreed with the statement “Israel is an apartheid state.” And 31 percent said that Israel was “committing genocide” against the Palestinians. Younger Jews were much more likely to agree with both statements.

... As they did in the civil rights era, Jewish Americans are playing an important role in today’s social justice movement. There are Jewish organizations supporting racial and economic justice, defending the rights of immigrants and refugees, and fighting for reproductive rights. Today, too, Jewish organizations are among the leading voices arguing for an end to Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and urging US political leadership to limit American aid to Israel in order to achieve those goals.

Biden has so far not only expressed but also provided unconditional support to Israel's current leadership and their stated war goals of rescuing the hostages and wiping out Hamas. No one can blame him or America of not standing resolutely by an ally ('Israelis Are Rejecting Netanyahu. So Why Is Biden Giving Him a Blank Check?'). But Biden cannot be blamed for the incompetence of Netanyahu in failing to achieve either goals. Or his selfishness to try and drag on the war for his own domestic political benefit and make the situation worse for Israel by organizing a genocide that has earned it international condemnation. If Netanyahu's ineptitude and misadventures are not curtailed immediately, Israel may soon find itself fighting a dangerous and unsustainable multi-front war with most of the middle-east becoming a volatile region.

So American Jewish voters have no real cause to be angry at Biden if he now pressurises Netanyahu and Hamas to negotiate for the hostages and a ceasefire. And he won't be upsetting Israelis too - he is actually more popular than Netanyahu in Israel!

At the same time, Arab Americans and other anti-war protestors in America do have a genuine reason to be unhappy with Biden for not listening to them (so far) and not doing enough to prevent the ongoing and meaningless genocide of Palestinians. (In fact, many Arab Americans who voted for him actually have innocent relatives in Palestine and have a genuine grievance that Biden and the US administration ignored their pleas to somehow protect them.)

Biden has no political benefit in supporting Netanyahu's war any more and can end it without comprising Israel in any manner. With the right political advise and skill, he can compromise and temporarily end the conflict without alienating any of his voter base. If he doesn't, or can't, he would be as incompetent as Netanyahu is and would be losing the Presidency not because of these anti-war protestors, but his own foolishness.

Update: Trump's campaign is already seeking to bolster the anti-war campaign with his shrewed political campaign. Washington Post reported on April 14, 2024 that Trump supporters echo pro-Palestinian ‘genocide Joe’ chant:

“Genocide Joe” is a phrase used by pro-Palestine protesters against President Biden because of his unconditional support of Israel amid its onslaught in Gaza. But supporters of former president Donald Trump adopted the chant at his campaign rally Saturday night ... Supporters began to chant “genocide Joe, genocide Joe,” as Trump spoke from a stage in a large field at the Schnecksville fire hall.

Trump paused before saying: “They’re not wrong, they’re not wrong. He’s done everything wrong.”

... Congressional Republicans have urged more U.S. support for Israel, although the Republican-controlled House has yet to take up a bill passed months ago in the Democratic-controlled Senate that would send aid to Israel along with Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific.

Many of the anti-war protestors are clearly angry with Biden for not doing enough to prevent the human rights violation and war crimes in Gaza. A core democratic value of democracy is that an elected representative needs to be willing to listen and negotiate with voters. If Biden continues to ignore these anti-war protests, he may may even disappoint proressives and make them reconsider their vote for him. Some of them (especially the angry Arab Americans) may actually choose to believe that Trump may be more willing to hear their concerns and do something about it.

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    This seems based on a flawed argument - "If Trump doesn't listen to these protestors, and Biden doesn't, then they're equally bad candidates". This misses the point that their respective immovable positions are widely apart. In the US FPTP electoral system, every Democrat who doesn't voting for Biden is equivalent to one extra vote for Trump - a difference of 1. That's why the strategy only made sense in the primaries, where Biden's gap to his competitors was essentially irrelevant.
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 15 at 14:34
  • @MSalters But the voter also sometimes has a 1-track mind on emotional issues that suddenly take the political centre stage for them. The ongoing genocide in Gaza is one such issue in the US for some voters. Their thought process is simple, "I voted for and supported Biden. And now I am voicing a grievance to him, along with many others through a political movement, on an issue many others too care deeply for. If he still chooses to ignore and snub us, screw him for being another Trump." If Biden and Trump suddenly are the "same" in the voters eye, why would they give damn about either?
    – sfxedit
    Commented Apr 15 at 17:11
  • @MSalters To put it even more simply, if a candidate you supported in the past, and still do to a certain extent, suddenly has a polar opposite view on a political issue that you are very emotional about, how likely are you to continue supporting him? Some voters care about foreign policy - especially on emotional issues like terrorist attacks, war and genocide. Nobody voted for Biden to support Netanyau's genocidal intent. The Biden administration was quick to announce that no genocide is happening. It is now up to Biden to convince his supporters that he is right or accept that he was wrong.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Apr 15 at 17:22
  • "...how is he any different from Trump?" There is probably more than a single issue existing for most voters. Biden is not only regarding the war somewhat different from Trump. He is also different with regard to other issues. I agree that it's some form of protest. But I would expect that in the end, protesters will stay with Biden because not voting for him is effectively a vote for Trump and that might be even worse for Gaza. That is unless one believes Trump would manage the war in Gaza better. I don't believe but some might. Commented Apr 15 at 20:17
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    The claim that American Jews will still be pro-Biden if attempts to force a ceasefire on Israel are outright wrong. You quote polls supporting him from 2021 and 2022, long before the current war. Instead, Liberal American Jews are becoming disillusioned with the democratic party that's abandoning Israel. Just look at all the articles in the news written by Liberal Jews who feel betrayed by the democratic party.
    – Rafael
    Commented Apr 18 at 1:29
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I'm writing an answer because I found a source with a relevant quote.

Source

Hasan Pyarali — the Muslim Caucus chairperson for College Democrats of America, the university arm of the Democratic Party — told Al Jazeera he was disappointed by Biden’s comments on Thursday.

...

"We're here to make it known that if he doesn’t change course, there's a real risk that we [Democrats] lose 2024," Pyarali said.

He also said the prospect of Trump winning in November would not be enough to convince young voters to vote for Biden. "It's not on us to make sure that Trump doesn't come back; it's on Biden and his campaign," he said.

So it seems like people who vote uncommitted are aware that their not voting for Biden can lead to Trump winning the election, but they (at least some of them) don't perceive it as their problem.

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The whole mindset of "Listen to Michigan" and similar such groups is an "everything or nothing" mindset to begin with. From their perspective if they can prove they got Trump reelected it would be an enormous victory on their part. It would be an indisputable message to the DNC of "you listen to us or else"

Of course that could easily backfire. Aside from Trump being in office it could also move the DNC to the right in general as it may be easier for the DNC to pick up votes from and deal with moderate Republican leaning independents than groups like "Listen to Michigan". Furthermore groups like "Listen to Michigan" are more likely to make demands that will cost the DNC votes than groups like moderate Republican leaning independents are. But with the everything or nothing mindset of "Listen to Michigan" they would not really care if that happened. Furthermore a Trump or Republican victory would make it a lot easier for them to recruit with an "us against them" sales line than a Biden victory would.

Therefore causing a Trump victory is not a concern of theirs.

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To expand on something touched on in @sfxedit's valuable answer, the uncommitted movement is an attempt to break the bipartisan consensus on supporting Israel no matter how outrageous its behaviour and actions. Successive administrations have displayed complete support for Israel and Israeli interests. Biden is transferring weapons to Israel whilst it plausiby commits genocide and deliberately starves Gaza. Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and recognised the illegally occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel. Obama signed over to Israel over $3 billion a year making Israel the largest recipient of US aid.

Given that background, I suspect that most who took part in uncommitted movement are serious about punishing the democrats and not voting for Biden even if it means Trump comes in. They feel that they have little to lose. Since Biden and the Democrats have done little more than anguished hand waving in the face of mass starvation, then they probably think how exactly could Trump be worse?

So rather than worrying about Trump, I suspect uncommitted voters are more interested in send a message to Biden and the Democrats. Get serious about holding Israel to account for its crimes or prepare to face years in the wilderness.

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    "How could Trump be worse?" - do you really want to find out? In a FPTP system, it's common enough for two candidates to be indistinguishable in some aspects, which forces voters to look at the differences in other aspects. For instance, until recently there was bipartisan consensus on NATO.
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 15 at 14:38
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    "How could Trump be worse" was particularly related to the situation in Gaza. There are a myriad of ways he could be worse in general of course. But with regards to Gaza, what could be worse than facilitating and assisting in genocide?
    – Ben Cohen
    Commented Apr 15 at 17:53
  • "Get serious about holding Israel to account for its crimes or prepare to face years in the wilderness." I guess the protest movement isn't big enough. There are also lots of people in the US backing up Israel. Neither Biden nor Trump will want to go against them. What shall Biden do? Damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Commented Apr 15 at 20:21
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution I don't believe Trump will take any actions against Israel because he fully supports them. But the anti-war protestors too are not asking for that - their demand is a ceasefire in Gaza and resumption of diplomacy to resolve the conflict. Trump has indicated that he too feels that this is the right option for Israel now because Netanyahu has "managed the war badly".
    – sfxedit
    Commented Apr 16 at 21:28
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    @BenCohen what could be worse than facilitating and assisting in genocide? For example, Trump could support a Rafah offensive without regard for civilian casualties.
    – Allure
    Commented May 8 at 8:44

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