The Influence of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

George Wallace, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and now perhaps Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

With the support of about 10 percent of likely voters, Kennedy has a chance to join the list of third-party candidates who have influenced modern presidential elections. Consider the latest Times poll:

In today’s newsletter, we’ll offer a primer on Kennedy’s candidacy — who he is, which voters support him, how his level of support is likely to change and what he’s emphasizing in his speeches and ads.

He is the third of 11 children of Robert F. Kennedy — the former attorney general, senator and presidential candidate — and Ethel Kennedy. He was 6 years old when his uncle was elected president and 14 years old when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated his father because of his father’s support for Israel during its 1967 war.

R.F.K. Jr., who’s now 70, has never run for office before. He spent his early career as an environmental advocate and lawyer. He fought for clean water and renewable energy and opposed coal, factory farms and pollution in heavily Black and Native American communities.

In recent decades, he has focused much of his attention on spreading false, conspiratorial ideas. After the 2004 election, he suggested that George W. Bush had stolen victory from John Kerry. Kennedy has claimed that vaccines cause autism, that H.I.V. may not cause AIDS and that Covid vaccines are a dangerous corporate plot.

His anti-vaccine views are his best-known position, but our colleague Jess Bidgood points out that Kennedy’s overall campaign is more traditionally populist. Ben Tulchin, a former pollster for Bernie Sanders, has noted the similarity between Kennedy’s and Sanders’s messages.

“We are no longer living in a democracy,” Kennedy has said. “We’re living in a corporate kleptocracy.” He has criticized wealth inequality, praised labor unions and called for a higher minimum wage, free day care, stronger border security, tougher corporate regulation and tax increases on the rich.

His foreign policy views lean toward isolationism. He describes Democrats and Republicans as warmongers and promises to keep the country “out of foreign conflicts.” He says President Biden has been too aggressive in confronting Russia and calls for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine. He supports Israel’s right to defend itself after the Oct. 7 attacks and has said Hamas “must be destroyed.”

His views on other issues are a mix of liberal and conservative, and he says those labels aren’t useful anymore. He says abortion should be legal early in pregnancy and restricted later. He favors marijuana legalization. He has promised not to take away people’s guns. He questions medical treatments for trans children.

Regular readers of this newsletter know that the American public leans to the left on many economic issues and to the right on many social issues. We’ve called it the Scaffle vote (for socially conservative and fiscally liberal). R.F.K. Jr.’s platform may not be wholly consistent, but he is mostly a Scaffle.

The people who say they plan to vote for R.F.K. Jr. are not vastly different from Americans as a whole. But there are some differences, says Ruth Igielnik, a polling expert at The Times.

His fans skew young: About 17 percent of likely voters younger than 30 backed him in our recent poll of swing states. His supporters are less likely to have a college degree than the electorate as a whole and are more likely to make less than $50,000 a year. They are more likely to be Latino. None of this should be surprising: Working-class and Latino Americans are often Scaffles.

“I’m just not seeing much change,” Chantel Turk, 33, a dance studio owner in Marietta, Ga., and a Kennedy supporter, told The Times. “I haven’t seen change since I started voting, so I’m losing faith in the system.”

For now, R.F.K. Jr. seems to be hurting Biden more than he’s hurting Donald Trump — but only modestly more. About 32 percent of R.F.K. Jr.’s supporters said they had voted for Biden in 2020, while 24 percent voted for Trump. Most of his remaining supporters didn’t vote four years ago.

Support for third-party candidates usually declines during a campaign. It happened to Wallace in 1968, Perot in 1992 and Nader in 2000.

Why? Some voters signal their unhappiness with the major-party candidates by telling pollsters they plan to vote for a third party, Ruth explains, but ultimately choose the Democrat or Republican they prefer. If this year’s campaign follows historical patterns, R.F.K. Jr.’s level of support is likely to decline by at least half (and he may not get onto the ballot in every state).

“But we should also take the lesson that less is not none,” Ruth says. In 2000, Nader, who received less than 3 percent of the popular vote, likely cost Al Gore the election. In 2016, the combined support for third-party candidates was larger than Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton in six swing states.

Lives Lived: The civil rights expert Christopher Edley Jr. advised three Democratic presidents and six presidential campaigns. He died at 71.

N.B.A.: The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 to tie their series at 2-2. And the Boston Celtics won their game against the Cleveland Cavaliers to take a 3-1 series lead.

N.H.L.: The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New York Rangers to force a Game 6. And the Vancouver Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers.

W.N.B.A.: The season starts tonight. People are watching Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever.

Britain’s butlers are changing. These days, buttling (yes, that’s a verb) is less about looking after a mansion and polishing silver and more about lifestyle management — akin to a private maître d’, one expert explained. If a client wants to eat dinner on a mountaintop, it’s the butler’s job to arrange the meal and the helicopter to get it there. And if a client wants donkeys for a Christmas Nativity scene, the butler will wrangle them. (Both are real examples from a new story by Plum Sykes in The Times.)

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