If RFK Jr. Wants To Be President, He’s Running In The Wrong Primary

A certain presidential candidate has been very popular lately. He appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast. House Republicans invited him to testify before Congress on censorship. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, has suggested that if he becomes president, he might nominate him to lead the Food and Drug Administration or Centers for Disease Control. GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said he’d consider him to be his running mate

The only problem? This candidate is running in the Democratic primary.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been a contradiction ever since he announced his presidential campaign back in April. Though he’s part of the most famous family in Democratic politics and holds some liberal views — like supporting abortion rights — he is best known for his embrace of conspiracy theories most popular on the right, including the idea that vaccines are unsafe. That has made him a celebrity among conservative thought leaders and persona non grata within the Democratic Party. The head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee even called him “unfit for public office.”

Those topsy-turvy opinions of Kennedy extend to voters — he’s quite popular among Republicans, but Democrats are highly ambivalent about him. Eight polls have asked about Kennedy’s favorable and unfavorable rating since July 1, and Kennedy’s net favorability rating is higher among Republicans than it is among Democrats in seven of them.

Republicans like RFK Jr. more than Democrats do

Polls of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s favorable and unfavorable ratings among Democrats and Republicans conducted since July 1, 2023, as of 12 p.m. on Aug. 3

Pollster Dates Pop. Fav. Unfav. Net Fav. Unfav. Net
Marquette Law July 7-12 RV 29% 37% -8 48% 19% +29
Ipsos/Reuters July 11-17 A 52 42 +10 62 30 +32
Quinnipiac July 13-17 RV 21 47 -26 48 22 +26
NewsNation July 17-18 RV 40 37 +3 52 23 +29
Harris/Harvard July 19-20 RV 51 26 +25 46 26 +20
Morning Consult July 20-22 LV 38 41 -3 50 27 +23
New York Times/Siena College July 23-27 RV 22 53 -31 54 18 +36
Echelon Insights July 24-27 LV 31 44 -13 50 20 +30
Average 36 41 -5 51 23 +28

Source: Polls

Five of the polls found that more Democrats had an unfavorable opinion of Kennedy than had a favorable one — but not every survey saw it that way. For example, The Harris Poll/HarrisX/Harvard Center for American Political Studies gave Kennedy a +25-point net favorability rating among Democrats, while Quinnipiac University put him at -26 points. 

It’s hard to know what’s going on here. One hypothesis might be that those two pollsters surveyed very different types of Democrats: Perhaps Quinnipiac reached a population that was more politically engaged than Harris’s, and more familiar with Kennedy’s controversial views. It’s worth noting that the two phone polls in the table above, Quinnipiac and The New York Times/Siena College, were the two worst for Kennedy among Democrats. And the third-worst was one of the two likely-voter polls in the bunch, from Echelon Insights. (More engaged voters may be likelier to respond to phone surveys and to call themselves likely voters.)

But one thing pollsters have consistently found is that Democratic voters are souring on Kennedy. Morning Consult, Harris, Quinnipiac, Echelon Insights and Marquette all saw Kennedy’s net favorability among Democrats decrease since their previous polls, conducted in either May or June (although in Marquette’s case, the decrease was small enough that it was within the margin of error).

RFK Jr. is getting less popular among Democrats

Polls of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s net favorability rating (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) among Democrats conducted in July 2023 compared with the previous poll from the same pollster, conducted in May or June

Pollster Pop. May or June July Change
Echelon Insights LV +8 -13 -21
Harris/Harvard RV +31 +25 -6
Marquette Law RV -7 -8 -1
Morning Consult LV +16 -3 -19
Quinnipiac RV -14 -26 -12
Average +7 -5 -12

Source: Polls

This makes a certain amount of sense. When Kennedy first jumped into the primary, many Democrats who liked the cut of his jib were basing their opinion on his name and his family’s reputation. According to a SSRS/CNN poll from May, a plurality (20 percent) of Democrats who said they would consider supporting Kennedy said it was because of the Kennedy name and his family connections. Many of these voters may not have been familiar with his conspiratorial views. But as Kennedy has gotten more media coverage and voters have learned more about him, they may have developed more unfavorable opinions.

Running against an incumbent president, Kennedy already faced extremely long odds in the Democratic primary. In terms of support, he has actually held steady around 15 percent all year long, according to FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average. But in order to improve upon that, he needs Democratic voters to like him, and that doesn’t seem to be the case — plus, things are moving in the wrong direction for him. Based on these numbers, if Kennedy is serious about wanting to become president, he should consider switching parties.

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