January 11, 2024 - 7:51pm

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has a higher favourability than both Joe Biden and Donald Trump, according to a new YouGov poll

RFK Jr.s’s current favourability stands at 50% while Biden and Trump’s are 43% and 45% respectively. The insurgent candidate is also far ahead of third-party candidates Cornel West (23%) and Jill Stein (19%), marking him out as a leading challenger to take on the Republican-Democrat duopoly. Respondents were not asked to rate the favourability of Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy. 

Kennedy, a former Democrat who is now running as an independent, has drawn attention on both sides of the aisle for his heterodox political stances, including his critiques of American foreign policy and vaccine scepticism. 

Despite his high favourability, Kennedy’s presidential bid remains a long shot. In a hypothetical Trump-Biden matchup, only 6% of voters would choose a third party candidate, and of those, 24% would vote for Kennedy, according to the same YouGov poll. 

While no third-party candidate has won the presidency in modern history, they have at times successfully pressured mainstream candidates to shift their positions in order to retain votes, and in several elections they’ve attracted enough votes to alter the outcome of an election. In 2016, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, whose supporters likely would have voted for Hillary Clinton had Stein not been on the ballot, won more votes than Trump’s margin of victory in three key battleground states. 

It’s less obvious who RFK’s supporters would vote for if he exited the race. A November Quinnipiac poll found that, when added to a hypothetical Trump-Biden contest, Kennedy took eight points from Biden and 10 from Trump. It’s unclear how that would play out in the electoral college, through which candidates can win the presidency while losing the popular vote. Another far-off scenario could play out in which RFK wins enough states to prevent either Trump or Biden from winning the requisite 270 of 538 electors. According to the Constitution, this would send the decision of the next president to the House of Representatives, which currently has a slender Republican majority. 

Kennedy has capitalised on Americans’ suspicion of government and the “Deep State”, expressing support for opinions that are dismissed by the authorities but are fairly popular among the public. He supports the theory that the CIA was responsible for killing President John F. Kennedy, which chimes with the opinion of a majority of Americans who do not believe the official account that JFK was killed by a lone gunman. Less popular are his claims that chemicals in the water supply are driving childhood gender identity issues and psychiatric medications are to blame for school shootings. 

Kennedy isn’t likely to be the next president, but his candidacy offers an outlet for Americans who feel excluded from the political process because major party candidates dismiss their beliefs. His popularity could serve as a warning to both Democrats and Republicans that they are not guaranteed votes by their partisan bases.

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.