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Thursday, May 23, 2024
Uninstructed Vote
A flyer giving information on the Wisconsin Vote Uninstructed movement from the Listen to Wisconsin Organization is displayed in Science Hall on April 2, 2024.

In warning for Biden, UW-Madison area wards vote uninstructed at nearly 4x statewide rate

More than 30% of campus-area voters supported the “uninstructed delegation” option in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary, signaling youth disconnect with the Biden administration's aid for Israel.

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison protested President Joe Biden’s support for Israel by voting “uninstructed delegation” in the April 2 Democratic presidential primary. 

Roughly 32% of voters chose the uninstructed option in 20 wards on or near the UW-Madison campus, compared to 14.6% in Dane County and 8.4% statewide, per unofficial results. Madison Ward 46, which surrounds James Madison park and the Capitol and is highly populated with students, saw 48% of voters support the uninstructed option.


Dane County 'Uninstructed Vote' Unofficial Final results from April 2, 2024. Red border corresponds to campus area wards.

Despite statewide numbers failing to reach the 15% threshold needed to send uninstructed delegates to the Democratic National Convention in August, high support in campus-area wards signals student dissatisfaction with the Biden administration’s policies toward the Israel-Hamas war and humanitarian efforts in Gaza. 

That’s a warning sign for Biden and Democrats, who in part relied on student turnout to defeat Trump by a razor-thin 20,000 votes in 2020. Tuesday’s statewide total of more than 48,000 votes for the Democratic uninstructed option more than doubled Biden’s 2020 margin of victory.

UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Wisconsin Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) campaigned for the uninstructed vote leading up to Tuesday’s vote, according to Dahlia Saba, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

“Over the past six months, our government has supported the Israeli military as they commit horrific atrocities against the people of Gaza,” Saba said. 

Following a similar uncommitted movement led by Michigan student activists, SJP “decided to do the same thing here in Wisconsin to make our voices heard and to fight for an end to U.S. military aid that's supporting this ongoing genocide.”

Saba said SJP’s goal is to force Biden to change current policy toward the war by calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, halting aid sent to Israel and reinstating humanitarian aid to The United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency. Congressional lawmakers in March suspended funding for the global aid program as part of a $1.2 trillion budget deal. 

“We're SJP. That means fighting for the rights of Palestinian people to live [with] basic human rights and with dignity and autonomy,” Saba said. “What we've seen in Gaza over the last six months is horrific and shows a huge violation of the rights of the people of Gaza, but also a lack of respect for those human rights from our government here in the U.S.”

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Ben Wikler, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman, told MSNBC late Tuesday the primary results were a message that voters, like “most Americans,” want an “enduring and just peace” in Gaza. 

Wikler said the Biden administration has an opportunity to make its values clear and demonstrate a contrast between Democratic policies and the Trump administration’s approach, which he suggested would be one of “total disregard for the lives of Palestininas civilians, for the hostages, for just about anyone else.”

“This is a protest vote. It’s a great American tradition of speaking your mind at the ballot box, and it’s civic engagement,” Wikler said. “I think we have the chance to earn all of these for the Biden campaign in November.”

SJP and other student organizations backing the uninstructed campaign, including the Muslim Student Association, shared messages on social media, passed out flyers around campus and organized statewide phone banks and rallies to support the cause, according to Saba.

Statewide organization Listen to Wisconsin partnered with student organizations at UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University to support the uninstructed vote. Their efforts were focused mainly in Madison and Milwaukee, districts with the highest uninstructed turnout in the state. 

Approximately 15% of Dane County voters and 12% of Milwaukee County voters supported the uninstructed delegation option in the Democratic presidential primary, rates higher than any other county statewide, according to unofficial results from the Associated Press.  

Uninstructed Vote Graphs.jpg

Campus area wards are 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 68, 69, 134. Data from Dane County Unofficial final April 2, 2024 results.

UW-Madison sophomore Sydney Tannen said she heard about the uninstructed vote through YDSA social media and in conversation with friends. “I feel like the message is getting heard somewhat,” she said.

Other students were unaware what the uninstructed vote meant before they cast their ballots. 

“I've heard of it before, but I feel like I need more information,” said Josephine Hunter, a UW-Madison sophomore. After learning the political significance of the vote, she said she would have supported it.

“I feel like there's no one trying to put it out there,” Hunter said. She said more active campaigning in busy areas of campus could have informed her. 

Saba said the majority of people student activists talked to were “overwhelmingly supportive” of the cause. With the growing presence of the war in the media during the last few months, “people have gotten more engaged in the issue,” Saba added.

“You get people from a variety of backgrounds. Some have heard about it, some are just learning about it and some have known about it for a long, long time,” Saba said. “Both groups of people are very passionate.”

Students who voted uninstructed said they were steadfast in their support of Biden changing his Israel policy.

“I voted uninstructed,” Tannen said. “I hope it sends a message.”

College news editor Noe Goldhaber contributed research and data analysis to this story.

Editor's Note: this story was updated at 12:14 p.m. to include information from Ben Wikler, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman.

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Mary Bosch

Mary Bosch is the photo editor for The Daily Cardinal and a first year journalism student. She has covered multiple stories about university sustainability efforts, and has written for state and city news. Follow her on twitter: @Mary_Bosch6

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