In case you haven’t already heard, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is going to run for president as an Independent after being sidelined by the Democratic establishment in favor of backing President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. This turn of events was not surprising given that Kennedy has positioned himself as a Democratic maverick of sorts.
As with most third-party runs, Kennedy likely will not win the presidency. However, he is now in a place where he can have a significant influence on the outcome of the election, acting as a spoiler. The question is, which side will his candidacy harm the most?
Kennedy could likely gain substantial support from disaffected Democrats, many of whom do not wish to see Biden serve a second term. These folks are likely to have become disenchanted with the party, which hasn’t seen fit to allow Kennedy to debate Biden on the national stage.
On the other hand, Kennedy has found favor with a wide swath of Republican, and even Libertarian, voters who appreciate his stance on vaccines. This adds yet another layer of complexity to this question.
Let’s start with the Democrats. Kennedy’s departure from the traditional Democratic playbook has been anything but subtle, with his “attack ads” against the DNC. He is clearly trying to appeal to voters who have become disillusioned with the party – and for good reason.
Even though Kennedy has been a polarizing figure on the left, he still wields the Kennedy name, which goes with the Democratic Party like peanut butter goes with jelly. Despite the favorable impression he has made on right-leaning Americans, Kennedy remains an ardent leftist in his positions on climate change, the economy, and other important issues. It is mostly his opposition to vaccines and his perceived penchant for unpopular conspiracy theories that could repel some Democratic voters.
Still, polling suggests that an enormous chunk of the Democratic electorate is unhappy with Biden and would have rather seen someone else take up the mantle. Yet, the DNC was loath to even consider such a thing, which means there might be a lot of left-leaning voters who might see a Kennedy candidacy as a middle finger against the establishment — just as Republicans did with former President Donald Trump.
On the other hand, we cannot overlook the potential threat Kennedy could pose to the eventual Republican nominee. RedState’s Bonchie laid out a compelling case arguing that the GOP would suffer the most from a Kennedy candidacy.
This is not good news for Republicans, and there’s empirical evidence to back that up. According to the latest polling, RFK Jr. enjoys a very high approval rating among Republicans while he’s extremely disliked by Democrats.
This data is impossible to ignore.
Kennedy could cause tremendous damage to the Republican nominee, especially if his name happens to be Donald J. Trump. The former president’s staunch support of COVID-19 vaccines has eroded some of his anti-establishment bona fides with members of the conservative base. It is possible that many of those who supported Trump in 2016 and 2020 would not have a problem with voting for a Democratic — or anti-establishment — leftist candidate. Indeed, much of Trump’s support came from people who previously supported Bernie Sanders’ bid for the White House – and he’s a full-on socialist.
Of course, there is also the possibility that Kennedy could cause an equal amount of problems for both sides. Polls have indicated that in a match-up between Biden and Trump, a significant percentage would consider voting for a third-party candidate.
A recent poll conducted by NewsNation and Decision Desk HQ revealed that nearly half of voters are opposed to a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election. The survey found that 23.38% of voters said they are very likely to consider voting for a third-party candidate if the two were to face off again, while 25.67% said they are somewhat likely to do the same.
When asked about potential third-party candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders emerged as the top choice with 20.60% support, followed by former Wyoming GOP Representative Liz Cheney at 10.25% and Senator Joe Manchin at 7.20%. Additionally, the poll highlighted the ongoing unpopularity of President Biden, with 54.24% of respondents expressing disapproval of his job performance.
However, we have seen polls like this in the past. While people say they are open to thinking outside of the uniparty box, they quickly change their minds by the time they get to the ballot box, where they pull the lever for Team Red or Blue. The fear of throwing away one’s vote and letting the party they detest win is a powerful motivator.
Still, this shows that Kennedy might not make as big of a splash as it might seem for either party.
If I had to put money on it, I would say Kennedy will do slightly more damage to the Republican candidate given his popularity on the right for his stance on vaccines. Indeed, many Libertarians, who might normally vote for the GOP, have been so enamored with his rhetoric on vaccines that they have been willing to overlook his authoritarian stances on guns, the economy, climate change, and other policies.
This does not necessarily mean that Kennedy could get enough support to singlehandedly throw the election to one side or the other. But regardless of which party wins, the race will likely be pretty close. The question is: Will the numbers be close enough for Kennedy to influence the outcome?