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‘Biden needs to be pro-peace’: Michigan anti-war campaign hails huge vote tally

<span>A volunteer with Listen to Michigan Campaign holds a sign to encourage voters to vote 'uncommitted' in the primary election in Dearborn.</span><span>Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images</span>
A volunteer with Listen to Michigan Campaign holds a sign to encourage voters to vote 'uncommitted' in the primary election in Dearborn.Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

A last-minute push by anti-war activists to reject President Joe Biden over his unwavering support for Israel far exceeded expectations in the Michigan Democratic party primary on Tuesday night.

Leaders from the grassroots campaign, called Listen to Michigan, said ahead of the primary that they would count 10,000 “uncommitted” votes – roughly Trump’s winning margin in Michigan eight years ago – as a victory.

Instead they surpassed that goal by an order of magnitude, earning the support of more than 100,000 Democrats who checked the “uncommitted” box, and 13% of votes overall. That should weigh heavily on Democrats, who could lose the pivotal state – and even the presidency – in November if these sentiments persist. Biden won Michigan by about 150,000 votes in 2020 – less than 3% of the overall vote.

It remains to be seen how many of the Michigan voters who withheld their support from Biden during the primary will abandon the president in the general election, where he will most likely face former president Donald Trump, whose brash Islamophobia and policies targeting Muslims defined his 2016 campaign and early presidency.

“This is a victory of American democracy,” said former US congressman Andy Levin, addressing a crowd of Listen to Michigan supporters as the results trickled in last night. “There is no time to waste – we need a permanent ceasefire right now.” In 2022 Levin, a progressive Jewish politician, faced a primary opponent in a new district and lost. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) spent more than $4m to support his opponent.

Michigan is home to one of the largest concentrations of Arab and Muslim Americans in the US, many of them living in the greater Detroit area. Those voters formed an important part of the Democratic coalition in 2020, but their support for Biden has plummeted as the president continues to support Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which has claimed the lives of nearly 30,000 Palestinians in just five months.

According to exit polling by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), 94% of Muslim voters who cast their ballots in Michigan’s Democratic primary on Tuesday voted “uncommitted”. There are about 200,000 registered Muslim voters in Michigan.

The “uncommitted” campaign formed quickly in early February with just weeks to spare ahead of the primary. Spurred by younger and Arab organizers, it was also supported by labor activists and progressive Jewish voters. Dozens of elected officials in the Detroit area and several national Democrats also registered their support. In a video posted to social media, Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian American congresswoman representing Dearborn and Detroit, explained why she voted “uncommitted”.

“President Biden is not hearing us,” said Tlaib, noting that according to recent polling, about 74% of Michigan Democrats support a ceasefire in Gaza. “This is the way we can use our democracy to say ‘listen – listen to Michigan.’”

In a New York Times opinion column that ran a week before the primary, the mayor of Dearborn, Abdullah Hammoud, who also backed the “uncommitted” campaign, described the “visceral sense of betrayal” his constituents feel toward the Biden administration. “President Biden,” Hammoud wrote, “is proving many of our worst fears about our government true: that regardless of how loud your voice may be, how many calls to government officials you may make, how many peaceful protests you organize and attend, nothing will change.”

But it isn’t only Muslim and Arab American voters who the president stands to lose in the November general election. Biden’s support among younger voters and Black voters, who formed key blocs in 2020, also threatens to collapse as the Israel-Hamas war, which has decimated Gaza, wears on.

Related: ‘Uncommitted’ vote in Michigan a warning shot over Biden’s support of Israel

So far, the Biden campaign has barely registered a response to the high turnout for the “uncommitted” campaign vote, and made no mention of it in a more than 300-word statement issued on Tuesday night – instead focusing on his record on infrastructure, healthcare, labor and the threat of a second Trump term.

“It’s astounding how many words that statement used to describe and distract from the reality that over 100,000 Democratic presidential primary voters in Michigan showed up to vote for peace and against war,” Abbas Alawieh, a spokesperson for the Listen to Michigan campaign, told the Guardian. “My advice to President Biden and his team would be not to ignore this movement but to engage productively with us.”

The formal demands of the Listen to Michigan campaign are for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to unconditional US military aid to Israel.

“President Biden needs to emerge as a pro-peace president if he’s going to earn our vote,” said Alawieh.