Whom does Kennedy’s candidacy hurt? In Michigan, as elsewhere, neither party


The popular narrative is that if it hadn’t been for Ross Perot in 1992, George H.W. Bush would have won a second presidential term and there wouldn’t have been a Bill Clinton.

It’s also said that if it weren’t for Ralph Nader in 2000, Al Gore would have become president.

Well, here we are in 2024 with Robert Kennedy Jr., another popular independent candidate, registering in public opinion polls. The initial belief was that the son of former U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy would hurt incumbent President Joe Biden come November.

After all, Kennedy ran in the Democratic primary until bailing out of the race to seek an independent run.

However, as the campaign has worn on, recent polls have shown that Kennedy, a pro-choice vaccine critic, isn’t drawing away lopsided support from either Biden or likely Republican nominee Donald Trump.

The last few polls have shown Kennedy taking equally from both.

Last week, Emerson College asked 1,000 Michigan voters their views on a head-to-head Trump-Biden election. They found that 45% said Trump, 44% said Biden and 11% were uncertain.

When asked whom they supported with Kennedy and an “other” added to the Biden-Trump mix, 43% said Trump and 42% Biden. Kennedy got 5%, 2% said someone else, and 8% were undecided.

In both polls, Trump is still up one percentage point, well within the +/- 3% margin of error.

This isn’t a Michigan phenomenon, either. Emerson polled in Arizona, too. Trump is up four percentage points in a head-to-head race, and Kennedy is up four percentage points in the mix.

Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina showed Trump with a slightly larger lead over Biden with Kennedy included, but get this:

A CBS News poll taken this month in Michigan showed the same thing. Biden’s two-point lead over Trump was the same regardless of whether Kennedy was on the ballot. CBS reported, “Kennedy looks like he’s drawing more interest from the kinds of voters backing Trump than backing Mr. Biden.”

Finally, a Fox News poll this month found the same thing. Trump has a 49% to 46% lead over Biden in Michigan. With Kennedy and the other third-party candidates on the ballot, it’s 42% to 40% Trump over Biden with Kennedy at 9%.

What’s going on here?

Anecdotally, Kennedy’s support isn’t coming from those with harsh partisan bents, which is the point of his campaign. Unlike a Green Party candidate or even a Libertarian, Kennedy takes populist stands rather than leaning on strict ideology.

He supports a woman’s right to have an abortion but would instead create huge childcare and daycare incentives to reduce abortions.

He doesn’t support “forever wars” and is trying to wind down the military, something those on the political far left and far right support.

He wasn’t a big fan of the COVID-19 vaccine but doesn’t like “Big Pharma” much either. He’s more for taking care of one’s health pre-emptively. Again, this appeals to both sides of the political spectrum.

Kennedy wants a tighter border, but he isn’t threatening mass deportations.

It’s hard to imagine defining a 70-year-old as a young candidate, but compared to Trump (age 77) and Biden (age 81), he is.

He represents genuine new energy from voters who don’t want a Part 2 of either Biden or Trump.

I’m not saying Robert Kennedy Jr. will be the next president. He has a long way to go before he can be part of that conversation.

However, his candidacy is a protest vote that may impact both sides equally. There are more than a few Republicans who can’t stomach Donald Trump and more than a few Democrats who feel Biden can’t make it, healthwise, for another four years.

In 2020, these people didn’t have an option that excited them. In 2024, maybe they do.

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.)


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