If RFK Jr. goes independent, does that help Biden or Trump?

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Democratic presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr., speaks at a campaign event on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Spartanburg, S.C. Kennedy wrapped up a four-day swing through the early-voting state as he challenges President Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic nomination. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard) Meg Kinnard/AP

If RFK Jr. goes independent, does that help Biden or Trump?

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Democrats are again worrying over a third-party presidential campaign, this one from a member of their own party.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was never welcomed by the Democratic camp, yet his pending switch from a Democratic to an independent presidential campaign could cause another headache for President Joe Biden.


A campaign staffer told Mediaite that Kennedy’s campaign will announce a party affiliation switch on Oct. 9 in Philadelphia. Kennedy’s team will begin launching “attack ads” against the Democratic National Committee ahead of his announcement, escalating the fight between the candidate and the organization.

Democrats are generally weary of third-party campaigns due to the belief that they’re likely to pull more support from a Democratic candidate than a Republican one. As such, the DNC is similarly concerned about a Green Party bid from Cornel West and the possibility of a campaign from No Labels.

That concern may be warranted. American Enterprise Institute senior fellow John Fortier previously told the Washington Examiner that despite talk about disaffected “Never Trump” Republicans who might back an independent candidate, such voters are rare apart from highly educated circles inside the Beltway.

“The people more likely to switch [to a third party] are less well educated, less interested in politics, not these upscale, socially liberal and fiscally conservative people,” he said.

Regarding Kennedy specifically, Fortier says it’s hard to predict which major party candidate would come out ahead.

“On the one hand, he is a Democrat with a famous name,” Fortier said. “But he is clearly of more interest today to voters on the right. But in this case, it is not clear that Republican-leaning voters who like RFK Jr. might not also like Trump at least as well, and would not want to throw away a Trump vote.”

Kennedy has pulled a surprising amount of polling support among Democrats, hitting 20% earlier this year according to the RealClearPolitics average, though that has fallen off in recent months. But his campaign argues that he’s more popular with would-be Trump supporters, which may play into the decision to go independent.

“One of the most effective DNC slurs against Bobby Kennedy has been that his candidacy will help Trump win,” Kennedy spokesman Tony Lyons said in a recent news release.” The opposite is true. Kennedy is taking more votes from Trump than from Biden, according to this poll as well as a recent YouGov poll.”

The release touted a poll showing Kennedy with 19% support, with Biden and Trump at 38% each.

Kennedy parked a campaign camper outside the Pray Vote Stand conference in Washington, D.C., last month. The summit featured GOP presidential candidates Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis, and Trump and was attended mostly by conservatives.

The DNC did not respond to a request for comment from the Washington Examiner.

Kennedy’s controversial positions and outspokenness have attracted headlines, but running an independent campaign would be challenging. He would have to secure ballot access in each state, for example, and may struggle for funding as well.

Fortier also argues that Biden and Trump, for all of their weaknesses, will likely drive voters into one camp or the other due to their polarizing images.

“Even reluctant Biden voters would realize that casting a vote for someone other than Biden would effectively be a vote for Trump,” he said.

Yet in a close election, every vote counts. Some have claimed that Green Party nominee Ralph Nader handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush by siphoning off would-be Al Gore voters in Florida.


Democratic strategist Brad Bannon isn’t among the worried. He says that Kennedy is likely to be a nonfactor no matter what.

“Jr. doesn’t have enough standing to impact the race one way or another,” Bannon said. “At least Cornel West has a base, as small as it is. Kennedy failed to carve out a niche within the Democratic Party and failed. He awaits the same fate as an independent. His vanity project will end in his own embarrassment.”

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