NEWS & Insights

Kennedy, More Relevant

Stories are popping up in the political media about President Biden seeing a resurgence of strength in recent national polls, but a bigger story is evolving.

The precursor to the election’s final outcome may prove to be Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the minor party candidates garnering enough votes to the point where their support tips the electorate toward one candidate or the other.

Additionally, while President Biden and former President Trump consistently find their approval ratings upside down in double digit point margins that are routinely closer to 20 rather than 10, Mr. Kennedy is always viewed as the more popular figure. Though his favorability index is only in slightly positive territory for the most part, generally from three to five percentage points, his standing is far superior to that of the two Presidents.

Even when his unfavorable perception does slightly exceed those who view him favorably, Mr. Kennedy never drops below the three to five point negative range. The FiveThirtyEight data organization charts most polling firms daily and finds Kennedy’s average favorability index in positive territory consecutively from May 18, 2023, all the way to today.

As we all know, the national ballot test is irrelevant in forecasting the presidential outcome because the electoral votes calculated in the states determine the eventual winner. National polling, however, generally provides a good indicator of candidate strength.

Several polls have been recently released and the four most contemporary all find Mr. Kennedy now consistently in double digit support territory. In two, HarrisX for Forbes Magazine, and Quinnipiac University, the addition of Kennedy and the minor candidates to the polling questionnaire changes the outcome after the respondents are presented the initial query of a choice between Biden and Trump.

HarrisX (3/26; 1,010 US registered voters; online) returns a 50-50% tie between Biden and Trump when the undecided respondents are pushed to make a choice. Yet, when Kennedy and the minor party candidates are added, the lead swings to Mr. Trump by a small two percentage point margin.

Quinnipiac University (3/21-25; 1,407 US registered voters; live interview) sees Biden topping Trump 48-45%, but when Kennedy and the minor party candidates are added, Trump secures a one point edge.

The most recent YouGov/Economist poll (3/24-26; 1,415 US registered voters; online) sees Mr. Trump also holding a one-point lead with Kennedy only in low single digits. The Trafalgar Group (3/29-31; 1,029 US likely general election voters; multiple sampling techniques) also finds a consistent result with the previous pollsters: Trump 43, Biden 40, Kennedy 11, Others 3%.

Therefore, we have several conclusions that appear to be correct. First, President Biden is improving his position against the field. Second, Mr. Trump appears in a long term stagnant position, and third, Mr. Kennedy is gaining enough support to be a factor in tipping the race from one candidate to the other.

At this particular point in time, the data responses suggest that the Kennedy presence damages President Biden to a slightly greater degree than former President Trump. But, as the campaign progresses, this factor could certainly change.

We can expect to see national and swing state polling varying from now until the election in a seesaw fashion between President Biden and former President Trump. The unanswered question revolves around Mr. Kennedy and just how well he will perform when actual votes are cast, and just who in the end will benefit more from his presence on the key swing state ballots.

We offer this political insights report for your information and not as a predictor or representative of opinions of HBS or its employees.