By Manzanita Miller
The latest Emerson Poll has Democrats concerned about President Biden’s prospects in the general election, with the introduction of a third-party challenger hurting Biden more than Former President Trump.
The poll shows Trump and Biden in a dead-heat at 44% and 43% of the vote respectively, but when third-party progressive candidate like Cornel West is added to the race, he hurts Biden more than Trump. West pulls in 6% of the vote as a third-party candidate but draws 15% of Black vote and 13% of voters under 35, groups Biden cannot afford to lose.
Political analysts looking to dismiss Democratic primary challengers Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson argue that the entry of a third-party candidate like West is more damaging to Biden than attacks from within his own party. While it is certainly true that the entry of a third-party progressive like West who polls well with Blacks and young voters would harm Biden in the general election, this is not to dismiss the threat of challengers from within the Democratic Party.
Kennedy is polling at 15% in the latest Emerson Poll, while Williamson is polling at 3%, and 10% say they’d support someone else. This translates to at over a quarter of Democrats leaning toward one of the two leading Biden-alternatives within the party. Whether these two candidates pose a real threat to Biden’s prospects in the primaries or not, there is no guarantee that Kennedy and Williamson supporters will circle back to support Biden in the general election should their candidates fail to secure the nomination.
Data from 2016 shows roughly 10% of Bernie Sanders supporters ended up switching sides and supporting Former President Trump, and that is a real possibility with Kennedy and Williamson supporters, who tend to be younger voters as well.
In fact, a May Morning Consult poll found R.F.K’s largest block of support stemming from women, younger voters, and those with some college education but no degree. Kennedy also polled well with Independents, securing 33% of their vote in the poll.
Women are a notable factor to consider here, because while West could court pull young progressives and Blacks away from Biden, Kennedy could do the same with women and young populists. The Morning Consult poll found 13% of women compared to 7% of men said they’d support Kennedy as a primary challenger. It is interesting just how far Biden’s numbers have fallen with Democratic women compared to men. There is a nearly twenty-percentage point difference between the share of men who say they’d support Biden in the primaries (78%) compared to the share of women who say the same thing (61%).
Like Kennedy, Williamson polls better with Democratic women than she does men and polls slightly better with college-educated Democrats.
Both a third-party challenger in the form of progressive activist Cornel West and challengers from within the Democratic Party pose a threat to Biden by dividing left-wing voters, as well as attracting swing voters and Independents.
This news comes on top of the recent Harvard CAPS / Harris poll showing not only that Former President Trump’s approval rating is higher than President Biden’s, but he earns more public support than GOP challenger Ron DeSantis and Democratic challenger Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
In fact, Trump leads DeSantis by a full 45 percentage points for the GOP primary spot in the Harvard CAPS / Harris poll and leads President Biden by six percentage points in a head-to head matchup.
Biden’s polling numbers remain marred in the low-40’s and he is polling worse against Trump than he was last summer, so any additional challenges from third-party candidates and his own party are not helping.
Mainstream analysts may suggest that West poses a greater challenge to Biden than Kennedy does. In reality, West has the potential to attract a substantial portion of the Black and youth vote during the general election, whereas Kennedy could appeal to women, young people, and populist Democrats during the primaries. However, there is no guarantee these groups will return to support Biden in the general election.
Manzanita Miller is an associate analyst at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.
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