Courtesy of Miranda Rector

While most New Haven Democrats chose to sit out last week’s rainy election day, voters’ “uncommitted” to incumbent President Joe Biden had a strong showing in the city’s younger neighborhoods. 

In Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary, 21 percent of New Haveners voted for “uncommitted” over Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. The statewide results, in which New Haven had the highest number of uncommitted votes from any town in the state, reflect a triumph for the Vote Uncommitted CT campaign, which encouraged voters to cast their ballots for “uncommitted” to express frustration over Biden’s response to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Only 3,539 Democrats voted in the primary, per the official final results.

Uncommitted finds base in East Rock, Edgewood

On Primary Day, volunteers from Vote Uncommitted CT’s parent organization, the CT Coalition for Palestine Solidarity, canvassed voters outside certain polling locations in the city. According to Chris Garaffa, a campaign organizer, 22 volunteers signed up to canvas at four different polling locations — East Rock Community Magnet School in Ward 9, Wilbur Cross High School in Ward 10, the Ellsworth Ave. Firehouse in Ward 24 and the New Haven Hall of Records in Ward 7. 

The wards where volunteers were stationed, as well as Ward 8, which is adjacent to Wards 7 and 9, recorded the highest percentages of ‘uncommitted” votes in the city — over 30 percent in each.

In East Rock’s Ward 9, represented by Alder Caroline Tanbee Smith ’14, “Uncommitted” received 72 votes, beating Biden’s 65.

Smith, who interacted with East Rock-based Vote Uncommitted organizers when she went to vote, said she “appreciated” the campaign and the opportunity it provided for her to engage with constituents of a diversity of views.

“I don’t know if I had an instinct about what was going to happen with the results,” Smith said. “I think the main feeling I feel is I’m just really excited. I’m really happy that the primary happened so that people had the chance to express their views.” 

In Ward 8, which covers parts of East Rock and Wooster Square, 85 Democrats voted for Biden and 57 chose “uncommitted.” In Ward 7, which includes much of Downtown New Haven, 97 Democrats voted for Biden and 62 backed “uncommitted.”

Alder Eli Sabin ’22, who represents Ward 7, said that the residents of his ward used the vote to express their feelings about the current state of affairs.

“I think there are obviously a lot of folks who felt like they wanted to use primary as an opportunity to let the administration know how they feel about certain policy issues, particularly, obviously the war in Gaza,” Sabin said.

In Ward 10, which includes parts of East Rock and Fair Haven, Biden received 191 votes and “uncommitted” garnered 94. In Ward 24, Edgewood, 78 Democrats voted for Biden and 37 for “uncommitted.”

The neighborhoods where “uncommitted” received the strongest support tended to be younger communities. According to 2020 census data, only five percent of Downtown residents, six percent of Fair Haven residents and eight percent of East Rock residents are 65 years or older. Nine percent of Edgewood residents and ten percent of Wooster Square residents are 65 years or older.

Meanwhile, in Fair Haven Heights and the East Shore — New Haven’s “oldest” neighborhoods where over 20 percent of residents are older than 65 — the “uncommitted” option garnered under 20 percent of the vote. 

Low turnout had little correlation to “uncommitted” win

Zadie Winthrop ’26, a Ward 22 voter, said that after researching the primary election process, she was assured that an “uncommitted” vote would not contribute to another Donald Trump presidency and could, instead, result in an “uncommitted” Democratic delegate if enough voters in the Democratic primary picked “uncommitted.” The “uncommitted” vote did not secure any delegates in Connecticut.

“I chose to vote uncommitted because I am unsatisfied with the Biden administration’s complicity in the massive death and suffering that has occurred and is continuing to occur in Gaza,” Winthrop wrote in a text message to the News.

Vincent Mauro Jr., the chair of New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee, speculated that the percentage of “uncommitted” voters was high because “uncommitted” voters were motivated to go vote, while other voters were not.

On the contrary, for people supporting Biden, “the election was already done,” Mauro said. The DTC did not organize an effort to get Democrats to vote for a specific candidate during the primary.

According to a News analysis, wards with a higher share of “uncommitted” votes had a slightly higher average turnout, but the difference was not dramatic.

Turnout across New Haven was much lower than in recent elections, despite the city’s inaugural implementation of four days of early voting. Just over 3,500 Democrats voted, less than half of the 7,900 that voted in the Democratic primary in September to elect the party’s nominees for New Haven mayor and all 30 alders. 

In the last presidential primary in 2020, which took place in August after Biden had qualified to be the Democratic nominee, 10,750 New Haven Democrats cast their ballots — a figure more than three times as large as this year’s turnout.

In 2020, Biden won 82.5 percent of the New Haven vote, with the remaining 17.5 percent going to Sanders, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard or the “uncommitted” option, suggesting that low turnout did not significantly help the “uncommitted” camp increase their percentage of the vote.

Mauro said he believes that the Democrats who voted uncommitted will vote for Biden in the November general election. However, he acknowledged the significance of the “uncommitted” vote share.

“It was an important protest vote,” Mauro said.

Uncommitted snatches Sanders crowd — except Yale

The 2024 precinct primary results reflect trends from the 2016 presidential primary, where Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, ran against Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who ran to Clinton’s left.

In 2016, 16,933 New Haven Democrats voted in Connecticut’s April presidential primary. 9,710 voted for Clinton and 7,062 voted for Sanders. 

Sanders received more votes than Clinton in six wards: Ward 1, Ward 9, Ward 18, Ward 7, Ward 8 and Ward 25. At the time of the election, these precincts encompassed Downtown, Wooster Square, East Rock, Edgewood, Fair Haven and the East Shore.  

New Haven’s ward boundaries were altered in 2023 using information from the 2020 census.

“Uncommitted” largely did well in areas similar to those where Sanders triumphed, except for the East Shore, a traditionally more conservative neighborhood, and Ward 1— the ward that covers eight of Yale’s residential colleges and Old Campus, and includes few non-Yale affiliated residents.

Sanders’ positive performance in the East Shore reflects his statewide popularity in more conservative and white Connecticut municipalities in 2016. His victorious showing in Ward 1, however, followed months of campaigning by and for Yale students in support of Sanders’ campaign. 

In 2016, 36 percent of eligible voters in Ward 1 voted, while only nine percent cast their ballots this year. Sanders received 66 percent of the vote in 2016 — the highest of any ward in the city — while “uncommitted” only garnered 18 percent — six votes out of 33. 

This sharp drop from the trend may be a result of a lack of Vote Uncommitted campaigning targeting Yale students. On Primary Day, Vote Uncommitted CT organizer Garaffa said that while some Yale students had reached out to them about canvassing at polling locations Downtown, there was no coordinated in-person effort to get out the vote in Ward 1.

Garaffa said that some volunteers decided on Primary Day to participate in remote campaigning, instead of in-person canvassing, due to the rainy weather.

Joe Biden won all 60 of Connecticut’s delegates in this year’s Democratic Primary. 

Ariela Lopez covers City Hall and City Politics. Originally from New York City, she is a first-year in Branford College.
Lily Belle Poling covers climate and the environment. Originally from Montgomery, Alabama, she is a first year in Branford College majoring in Global Affairs and English.