04.24.2024 0

Kennedy Hurts Trump with Independents, Who are Already Deserting Biden

By Manzanita Miller

Recent polling from NBC News shows that the entry of independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. into the presidential race slightly raises President Joe Biden’s odds against former President Donald Trump. However, at the core of this issue is the fact that independents – who backed Biden by thirteen points in 2020 – appear to be on the brink of deserting him in November. Their votes are largely ‘up for grabs’, and in a two-way race between Trump and Biden, independents favor Trump by several points compared to 2020.

Adding Kennedy to the race takes slightly more votes from Republicans than it does Democrats, but it is independent voters who would otherwise vote for Trump who form the bulk of Kennedy’s support.

Trump leads Biden by two points in a two-way race according to the NBC News poll, but when Kennedy is added to the race, Biden takes the two-point lead. In this scenario Biden earns 39 percent to Trump’s 37 percent and Kennedy takes a relatively substantial thirteen percent according to the poll.

Other polling shows that Kennedy draws slightly more votes from prospective Trump voters than prospective Biden voters, and it is independents who Kennedy earns. A Marist/PBS NewsHour poll reveals that Kennedy draws support from eight percent of Democrats and ten percent of Republicans, but a full 27 percent of independents.

What is striking is the palpable shift among independent voters away from Biden in the past four years. Biden won independents by thirteen points – 54 percent to 41 percent – in 2020, but current polls show independents split nearly down the middle. In the Marist poll, Biden and Trump each earn 49 percent of independents in a two-way race, which would be an eight-point gain for Trump compared to 2020.  

Other polls show Trump winning independents altogether. For example, the April New York Times poll shows Trump winning independents by five points, 47 percent to 42 percent.

The Times poll also reveals ample evidence that independents may dislike Biden even more than they are letting on. For example, independents say by nearly 30 percentage points that the Biden years have been ‘mostly bad for America’. Asked whether they view Trump as leaving the country better of worse off than he found it, independents say by a modest margin that Trump left the country better than he found it.

On key metrics, independents give Biden deeply negative ratings. Independents disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy by 46 points, 73 percent to 27 percent. Notably, independents give nearly the opposite response when polled on how they believe Trump handled the economy. Independents approve of how Trump handled the economy by 38 points, 69 percent to 31 percent.   

On immigration, independents give Biden deeply negative marks as well. Independents disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration by 38 points, 67 percent to 29 percent. Independents narrowly disapprove of how Trump handled immigration by one point, 49 percent to 48 percent. Still, almost half of independents approve of how Trump handled immigration while less than a third approve of how Biden is handling the issue.

Independents strongly disapprove of Biden’s handling of foreign conflicts by 25 points, 65 percent to 30 percent. The group is evenly split on how they view Trump’s foreign policy approach, with 47 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving. Once again, nearly half of independents approve of Trump’s handling of foreign policy while only 30 percent approve of Biden’s.

Despite giving Trump high marks on his governing, independents have an unfavorable view of the former president by 21 points, 59 percent to 38 percent. That said, Biden’s unfavorable rating is even worse. Independents give Biden a net unfavorable rating of 31 points, 64 percent to 33 percent.

The conclusions are threefold. First, it is true that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. presents more of a ‘threat’ to Trump than he does Biden, but it is not necessarily because R.F.K. Jr. is peeling off large numbers of GOP voters it is because he attracts independents, many of whom would otherwise vote for Trump.

Second, regardless of Kennedy’s bid, independent voters hold deeply negative sentiments on Joe Biden that make any alternative – whether Trump or Kennedy or someone else – somewhat attractive.

Last, independents largely favor the way Trump governed on key issues, but still hold reservations about him as an individual. There is less of a threat of Kennedy drawing in GOP voters, but there is a real loss here for Trump if he is unable to court those independent voters who are already deeply unhappy with the Biden presidency.

Manzanita Miller is an associate analyst at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

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