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Michigan Campaign To Protest Biden’s Gaza Policy Gains Steam

In a new poll, less than a third of Michigan voters said they supported a continuation in the fighting to eliminate Hamas

Rashida Tlaib is urging Michigan voters to vote 'Uncommitted' in Democratic primary,

A new survey shows significant support for a ceasefire in Gaza among Michigan voters — a heartening result for a campaign to get them to protest President Joe Biden’s handling of the war with their ballots on Tuesday. 

The poll of 600 likely voters in the swing state showed 53% of respondents favor a unilateral ceasefire in Gaza to negotiate the release of more than 100 hostages and provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians there. Nearly three quarters of Democrats surveyed, 74%, and 64% of independents said they supported a ceasefire.

Supporters of a movement to encourage voters in Michigan, which has the largest Arab American population in the U.S., to write “uncommitted” in next week’s presidential primary, said the poll shows mounting pressure for Biden to intercede with Israel over the war in Gaza.

James Zogby, a Arab American pollster and activist who was not involved in Wednesday’s survey, wrote in a text that it reflected what he’s seen in his own polling: that “a substantial majority of Democrats want a ceasefire and an end to the slaughter in Gaza.” Arab American voters, he added, “not only do not want to be ignored or taken for granted, they want to show that their views are in the mainstream and their votes matter.”

A similar initiative for a “ceasefire” write-in vote in last month’s New Hampshire primary, however, garnered only 1,500 votes.

The Democratic Party’s progressive flank has been trying to get Biden to call for a ceasefire for months. And sympathy for Palestinians has risen — particularly among younger Democrats and people of color — as the death toll rises in Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, a response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. 

RELATED How the ‘Vote Ceasefire’ campaign fared in the New Hampshire primary

The survey, released Wednesday and conducted via phone by the EPIC-MRA polling firm from Feb. 13-18, also asked voters if they support a continuation of the fighting until Hamas is eliminated — a stated aim of the Israeli government. Less than a third, 27%, did. 

The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, did not ask about the ceasefire proposal currently being negotiated by the U.S., which involves a “humanitarian ceasefire” lasting several weeks or months to facilitate the release of hostages. Biden has urged Israel to agree to the terms of the proposal and expressed opposition to a ground operation in Rafah, the last remaining Hamas stronghold, without a credible plan to evacuate the more than a million displaced civilians sheltering there.

High stakes

Organizers of the “Listen to Michigan” campaign said it can do far better than the New Hampshire effort to pressure Biden at the polls. In addition to Michigan’s large Arab American population, the “uncommitted” option appears on the ballot — which was not the case in New Hampshire — and has been widely publicized.

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It has also been endorsed by Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, and State Rep. Abraham Aiyash, the second-ranking Democrat in the Michigan House and the legislature’s majority leader. A group of progressive Jews, led by former Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, is also promoting the campaign. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who is challenging Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, has also endorsed a ceasefire but hasn’t gained traction in the race.

Waleed Shahid, a progressive strategist and former spokesperson for Justice Democrats, said Biden “has fractured the Democratic Party by opposing the majority of voters who want a ceasefire and an end to funding Israel’s war in Gaza.”

RELATED Meet the Michigan Jews backing a campaign to pressure Biden on Israel by voting ‘Uncommitted’ in the primary

The stakes in Michigan are exceedingly high — it could determine the outcome of the presidential election. Former President Donald Trump won Michigan in 2016 by 10,000 votes and is currently leading in recent polls by an average of four points.

“What’s also clear is that Biden is in a close race in Michigan in which he can’t afford to lose any potential supporters,” wrote Zogby.

There is also good news for Biden in Wednesday’s poll. Voters who favor an immediate ceasefire still support Biden over Trump by 57% to 27%. Trump leads Biden 74% to 18% among those who want to see Israel continue the military campaign in Gaza until Hamas is defeated, and 51% to 19% among undecideds.  

But CNN host Chris Wallace said on Monday that top Democrats are “worried” about a vote of no confidence in Biden in Michigan.  

Rep. Ro Khanna of California, one of 66 congressional Democrats who have called for a ceasefire, but campaigned for Biden in New Hampshire, where he argued that a protest vote would weaken the president, will visit Michigan on Thursday to meet with Muslim and Arab American leaders. 

Arab, Muslim and Jewish voters

Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan, together are home to an estimated 200,000 Arab Americans, according to 2020 Arab American Institute data. Their votes matter to Biden. He beat Trump by 154,000 votes in the state, and received about 70% of the Muslim vote. Abdullah H. Hammoud, mayor of Dearborn, said in a New York Times op-ed that he will vote against Biden in the primary.

There are about 105,000 Jewish voters in the state, 61% of whom identify as Democrats

Mark Mellman, head of the Democratic Majority for Israel, said that higher turnout of Jewish voters in the state who are supportive of Biden’s approach to the war could make up lost Arab American votes. He added that Muslim voters “are going to have a hard time at the end of the day voting for the Islamophobe-in-chief Donald Trump, who instituted a Muslim ban and wants to deport Palestinians.” 

Levin, who lost his reelection bid in a Democratic primary in 2020, said the protest vote is aimed at changing Biden’s policy on Israel so he can win the trust of these voters and take Michigan in November. 

“The poll results demonstrate that Biden must correct course by uniting the party around a dramatic shift in policy,” said Shaid.

Jacob Kornbluh is the Forward’s senior political reporter. Follow him on Twitter @jacobkornbluh or email