Having The Same Name Is Half The Game In US Politics.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is running for the White House as an independent candidate. He cannot win, but he might possiby affect the result.
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Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 70, is the son of the assasinated U.S. attorney general and is the nephew of tragically assasinated former President John F. Kennedy. He’s an environmental attorney and is perhaps best known for espousing conspiracy theories about vaccines, or having been a now recovered self-confessed heroin addict for fourteen years.

He is an independent with no political experience but a very famous name and he’s running  for the White House, and has gathered some support from American voters who are fed up with Republicans and Democrats.

Political analysts say there is very little chance that  Kennedy could win the presidency. But since the race for president will likely be decided by a few thousand votes in a handful of marginal swing states, as the past two presidential elections were, votes for Kennedy could tip the result towards one or other of the major party candidates.

“The context here is that the two major party candidates, Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, are actually pretty unpopular,” Chris Jackson, a senior vice president with the public opinion research company Ipsos, told VOA. “Joe Biden’s approval rating is barely at 40%, and Donald Trump, in favorability rating scales that we see, his numbers tend to be in the mid-30s.

“What RFK Jr. basically is is a place for those people who don’t like either man to go to voice that dissatisfaction.”

In polls released this week by The Wall Street Journal, Kennedy appears to be receiving significant support from voters in several swing states that are likely to figure closely in who becomes the next president.

In Nevada, 15% of voters said that they would cast a ballot for Kennedy, as did 13% of voters in Arizona, 12% in Michigan, and 10% in North Carolina and Wisconsin. Kennedy fared less well in Georgia and Pennsylvania, with 8% and 7%, respectively.

The difficulty now is determining whether Kennedy is pulling more votes from Trump or from Biden. The Journal’s polling seems to suggest he is drawing votes away from both candidates, but slightly more from Trump.

In the polls, voters were asked to choose from a list of candidates that did not include Kennedy, and then to choose again from a list to which Kennedy had been added. In five of the seven swing states polled, Trump lost a higher percentage of voters to Kennedy than did Biden. But in most cases, that difference was around 1 percentage point, well within the polls’ margins of error.

However, some earlier polls suggested that Kennedy was taking more votes from Biden than from Trump, and many well-known polling averages continue to suggest that is the more likely scenario.

Drew McCoy, president of Decision Desk HQ, an organization that gathers data on elections in the U.S., said it is becoming increasingly clear that Kennedy, who was seen by many as a vanity candidate when he announced a run for the White House last year, may play a significant role in the race’s outcome.

“Pollsters are coming to the awareness that including Kennedy in their ballot is going to be more of a necessity than maybe it seemed to be three or four months ago. So, I think we’re going to see more data,” McCoy told VOA.

That does not mean that Kennedy is likely to win the presidency, or even a particular state, McCoy said.

“What people will be looking at is what his impact is going to be in some of these closer states — the battleground states that we all know and expect to be following again,” McCoy said. “His ability to draw votes, and how well he performs versus the other candidates, is going to be the really interesting thing.”

Kennedy’s share of the vote may also change as voters become more familiar with him and his policy positions.

“Kennedy himself is very poorly defined in terms of what his background actually is and what his stances on things actually are,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told VOA.

“Basically, he’s a guy with a famous last name in an election where a lot of people don’t like the two major party candidates,” Kondik said.

Kondik also pointed out that historically, third-party candidates tend to do worse than their polling suggests they will. As voters consider the likely outcome of the election, the allure of an outsider candidacy tends to wane.

“Some of that is going to fade away as people focus on the actual two people who can win the election,” he said.

Born into one of the most famous political families in the United States, Kennedy was just 14 when his father was assassinated while running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, a race he was considered likely to win. Just five years earlier, Kennedy’s uncle had also been assassinated.

Kennedy’s youth and early adulthood were marked by drug abuse. After being kicked out of two boarding schools for drug use as a teen, he earned degrees from Harvard University, the London School of Economics and the University of Virginia School of Law.

He was briefly an assistant district attorney for Manhattan in the early 1980s but resigned in 1983 after failing the New York State bar exam. That same year, he was arrested on charges of heroin possession.

In the years after his arrest, Kennedy carved out a new identity for himself, becoming a prominent legal and environmental activist associated with Riverkeeper, an organization dedicated to cleaning up New York’s famously polluted Hudson River.

In the decades that followed, he found considerable success as an attorney and advocate for environmental causes, winning several notable court cases against major corporations.

In the early 2000s, Kennedy’s name became increasingly associated with a growing movement of Americans who believe that many common vaccines given to young children cause a variety of health problems and other conditions, including autism.

His anti-vaccine stance became more prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he was a regular source of misleading information and a frequent critic of public health authorities.

In recent years, Kennedy has trafficked in a number of other conspiracy theories, often accusing shadowy cabals of businesspeople and billionaires of orchestrating U.S. policy behind the scenes.

Since his 40s, Kennedy has been affected by spasmodic dysphonia, a disorder that affects the larynx and makes the voice quaver.

Source: VOA.
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