Michigan primary result delivers powerful pro-Palestinian message to Biden

State carries rumble of coming thunderstorm as 14 per cent of Democrat voters return uncommitted votes

Michigan delivered a powerful message of pro-Palestinian protest to US president Joe Biden as the primary vote counting moved into the early hours of Wednesday morning in the Great Lakes state. The 2024 primary will be remembered not so much for the outcome as for the night when the horrors visited upon civilians in Gaza over the past five months showed up in polling booths everywhere from the struggling suburbs of Motor City to the remote reaches of the Upper Peninsula.

As expected, Biden and Donald Trump won the Democratic and Republican votes easily, but with returns which must have brought restless slumbers to both men. In a primary season singularly devoid of unpredictability, Michigan carried the distant rumble of a coming thunderstorm.

The huge number of uncommitted votes returned by Democratic voters – a remarkable 13 per cent, which translated to 101,000 voters as counting concluded on Wednesday – was the result of a concerted effort by the Listen to Michigan campaign. It signalled a clear warning of the latent power the electorate carries in a state that can be a graveyard for presidential ambitions.

In his statement, Biden thanked “every Michigander who made their voice heard today” and reminded people that four years ago, “it was Michigan’s diverse coalition that came together to reject Donald Trump’s Maga extremism and sent me and Kamala [Harris] to the White House”.


The polls closed at 9pm in Michigan on Tuesday night. Seconds later, CNN announced projected wins for Biden and Trump but within the first hour of counting, attention was riveted to that fast-accumulating figure of uncommitted voters.

Given the cause of the protest vote, it would be wrong to term the gathering at the Listen to Michigan watch party celebratory in mood, but when Abraham Aiyash, the majority leader of the Michigan house of Representatives, took to the stage in Dearborn, there was an urgent sense of momentum in his message.

“I thought the White House would listen after we reached 5,000 dead Palestinian babies but the White House did not. I thought they would listen when South Africa took them [Israel] to the International Court of Justice and said ‘this is a genocide’ but they did not. I thought they would listen after hospital after hospital was bombed but they did not.

“So, it is my hope that after tonight’s results – and we’re going to Chicago, by the way; 174 nights from now we are going to be at the Democratic national convention, pushing and growing this anti-war movement. This is an anti-war, pro-peace movement that a majority of Americans support, and a majority of Democrats support so don’t you try to spin this after tonight and say that the Democratic Party is fracturing. We are trying to save the Democratic Party from genocide.”

There are 10.5 million people in Michigan and the state is home to 221,000 Arab Americans, second only to California in demographic representation. The harnessing of that concentrated anger had been flagged in advance of what had been a subdued build-up to Michigan’s decision night. But the scale of the protest held no surprise for politicians close to the ground there.

“First of all, it is not a surprise to me,” said Democratic congresswoman Debbie Dingell on Tuesday night, arguing that the protesters extended beyond members of the Arab-American community.

“We have a campaign called Listen to Michigan with people who want to be listened to. But as everyone started acting surprised tonight or looking at figures, I said to multiple people over the past month: Ann Arbor, my district, I bet, will have more uncommitted votes than Dearborn. And as we are watching, I am going to be right. Because it is not just the American-Arab Muslim community. It’s young people who want to be heard. They have the same concerns. They know what Hamas did was a terrorist act, but they are watching innocent civilians be killed and the damage that is there. We have to talk about that issue.”

In 2016, Michigan turned into a nightmare for Hillary Clinton, who was defeated in the Democratic primary to Bernie Sanders, a result which presaged her general election loss to Trump. Four years later, Biden turned Michigan blue, winning by 154,000 votes. In November, the outcome of Michigan will be critical to the result of the presidential election.

If the implicit warning in the tens of thousands of uncommitted voters is a worry for Biden, so the ultimate destination of Nikki Haley’s voters is a concern for Donald Trump and Republicans in general. Despite her indefatigable zeal for rallies, Haley devoted little time to Michigan but still attracted 27 per cent of the vote after two hours of counting.

On Tuesday evening, watching the results come in from Utah, she didn’t disagree in a CNN interview when considering if perhaps the Republican Party had morphed into something of a party as defined by the values and personality of Trump.

“It may well have and that’s what we are doing: we are giving them an option. What I am saying to my Republican Party family is: we are in a ship with a hole in it. And we can either go down with the ship and watch the country go socialist left or we can see that we need to take the life raft and move in a new direction. It is very telling when now the RNC [Republican National Committee] is now not about winning races up and down the ticket, the RNC is now about Donald Trump. They made that very clear. So now that’s become his legal slush fund – do we not see what’s happening here? And that’s the issue with all of this.”

To further complicate the lives of Michigan voters, the Republican Party will hold a separate caucus on Saturday, reflective of the deep chasm which has divided the GOP in the state. Tuesday night’s primary carried 16 delegates for the winner and was an open vote. But Saturday’s congressional caucus meetings will carry the remaining 39 delegates and votes will be limited to party loyalists.

Internal Grand Old Party Chaos has been a running subplot to the Michigan primaries because of a leadership dispute between Kristina Karamo and Peter Hoekstra. Karamo is refusing to cede her role, despite a vote by the Republican National Committee, to ratify Hoekstra as the newly elected chair of the Michigan branch of the party. Karamo was in effect removed as chairwoman in January after infighting over the financial wellbeing of the state GOP. On Tuesday, a circuit court judge in Kent county ruled that Karamo had been legitimately removed from the chair and ordered that she could no longer identify herself as holding that position.

The end result of Saturday’s caucus will be another resounding vote for a second Trump presidency. Haley, winless now in all six Republican contests so far, has vowed to carry the fight into next week’s Super Tuesday landmark date when 15 states go to the polls, explaining that she owed it to her children and those across the country to save the US from the ideological collision course on which the 2024 US election seems set.

“And then we wonder about why there is so much stress, anxiety and depression,” she told viewers on CNN.

“It’s because our country is in a tent of hatred and anger and division. There is nothing normal about the chaos that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have given us, and our kids deserve to know normal.”

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here