The Speaker
Sunday, 23 June 2024 – 01:37

Can RFK Jr. Win? Analysing His Potential Impact on the Election

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Back in April, members of the US’s most prominent political family, The Kennedy’s, appeared at a Joe Biden Campaign event to endorse the sitting US president and denounce their fellow Kennedy and independent presidential hopeful, Robert F Kennedy Jr (RFK). In recent weeks, GOP nominee and former President, Donald Trump also denounced RFK as “the most Radical Left Candidate in the race by far” and he remarked that RFK is “Crooked Joe Biden’s Political Opponent, not mine. I love that he is running!”.

Confusingly, merely weeks later he was denouncing Kennedy to be a “Biden plant” and that he’d “even take Biden over Junior”.

One interesting question to ask is why are the two frontrunners in this race paying so much time and attention to a candidate who by all accounts is very unlikely to win the race for president? In short, the answer is that although his chances of winning are increasingly slim, he currently polls as high as 15%, making him on track to be the most successful third party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992. The businessman turned politician received 18.9% of the vote in the 1992 presidential election and although he also came nowhere near winning, he is credited for swinging the election in Bill Clinton’s favour as he is often said to have taken more votes away from George Bush. The parallels between Perot and RFK don’t end there; however, part of the reason behind the two men’s high polling is a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the current establishment, a frustration only exaggerated this year by the fact that the upcoming election will see the same two candidates from the 2020 election. A recent IPSOS poll indicated that voters are unhappy with the two choices for president, with “most feeling that Donald Trump (56%) and Joe Biden (70%) should not run for president again in 2024”.

But what effect will the RFK candidacy have on the overall result of the all important 2024 presidential election? It is a question that all top political commentators and strategists are trying to answer and navigate.

There are a few factors that will determine how RFK’s candidacy will affect the eventual result of the presidential election. One of the most important factors is ballot access. Since announcing that he would be running as an independent (third party) candidate, after failing to win the Democratic nomination, Kennedy’s main obstacle has been getting access to the ballot in all 50 states. Getting a candidate’s name on the ballot in presidential elections is far from easy. Each state has its own election processes meaning any candidate that wants to be an option in every state must go through 50 different but similar processes. All of these include gathering a large amount of signatures from your supporters.

This complex process, to be frank, is built by design to be favourable to the main two parties. For example, in California, independent candidates must gather 219,000 signatures whilst the two main parties automatically make it onto the ballot. In New York too, they recently tripled the number of signatures a presidential candidate must have to gain access to the ballot.

The Kennedy Campaign has reportedly made use of its deep pockets to spend millions of dollars on paid supporters and professional strategists to get on the ground to collect signatures. Kennedy has also founded the ‘We the People Party’ as a means of getting on the ballot in a number of states that have less strict ballot access measures for minor parties than independents.

At the time of writing this article, RFK will be on the ballot in twelve states. Most of the states he has qualified for so far such as California and Texas are considered safe seats for the two main parties, which means Kennedy’s influence over the outcome will be limited. Kennedy however has also gained ballot access in swing states such as Michigan and Nevada where current polling suggests the race between Trump and Biden could be incredibly tight. In Michigan for example, current polling suggests that Biden is polling at around 41% compared to Trump at 40% with Kennedy polling as high as 9%.

This brings us on to the main question that surrounds RFK’s run. Who is he pulling the most votes from? In 2020 third parties accounted for around 1.5% of the presidential vote with Joe Biden and Donald Trump receiving 51.31% and 46.85% respectively. With Kennedy now polling at around 15% in some polls and the other two candidates now polling both consistently polling barely above 40% according to 538.

It is clear that previous supporters of the main two candidates have flocked to the independent. Initially the consensus was RFK would be set to pull votes away from Joe Biden. This is because RFK initially ran in the Democratic primary before pulling out to run as an independent after it became clear he would not be able to win the party’s nomination. It was at this point that Trump was celebrating Kennedy’s campaign, confident it would only help him succeed on his own. There is a reason of course that the former president recently has u-turned on his support for RFK and has now taken to labelling him as a radical left plant. That is that recent polling appears to suggest more Republicans than Democrats have a favourable view of RFK with a recent AP Poll claiming that 53% of Republicans view RFK favourably compared to 30% of Democrats.

Although it may appear that RFK voters are mostly being pulled away from Trump and therefore is a positive for Biden, it should spell very real warning signs for the Biden campaign for one key reason. That is the fact that support for third parties during the campaign rarely holds up on the day of the election meaning many of these voters could return to their main two parties.

Another factor in deciding how much RFK can affect the result of the election is what is seen as one of the most recognisable features of the US political campaigns. That is the televised presidential debates. Since the 60’s the presidential debates have been touted as one of the most significant deciders in the outcome of presidential elections in the US, although their role in the outcomes of the final election result has perhaps been overstated, they are a good way for candidates to show themselves off to the public. Since the 60’s however, there has only once ever been a third person on the debate stage. This was of course the aforementioned, Ross Perot in 1992. Since then, no other third party candidate has made it onto the debate stage. This is due to the strict regulation of the TV debates by The Commission on Presidential Debates (an institution set up by the two major parties), which state that a candidate must have a polling average of 15% in polls approved by The Commission.

This year however, both parties have opted to ditch The Commission and instead organise the televised debate between themselves with both parties negotiating the terms of the debate like a boxing match. At the time of writing, one debate has been scheduled for June 27th on CNN. This debate however will have a similar 15% restriction on candidates, locking out RFK from the stage. The restriction that each candidate must be polling at 15% in CNN recognised polls does still leave room for RFK to make it on to future debates however. As things stand Kennedy has achieved two out of four approved polls that put him at 15% of the vote.

Kennedy getting on to a debate stage with the other two candidates would certainly increase his name recognition amongst voters and help him take advantage of the widespread unpopularity of the two major candidates.

Overall it remains uncertain just how well Kennedy will be able to perform in the coming election. The appeal of his famous name and the broad unenthusiasm for the two main candidates have undoubtedly placed RFK in the position of strongest third party candidate in a generation. Despite it still being very unlikely that he will win the presidency, RFK remains one of the biggest factors in deciding the presidency.

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