Robert F. Kennedy Jr. launches his unlikely bid for the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday with the support of 14% of voters who backed President Joe Biden in 2020, an exclusive USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds.
That is surprising strength for a candidate who has a famous political name but is now known mostly as the champion of a debunked conspiracy theory blaming childhood vaccines for autism.
In the survey taken Saturday through Tuesday, only 67% of Biden’s 2020 supporters said they would support him for the Democratic nomination over his current challengers. Kennedy stands at 14%, and self-help author Marianne Williamson, a quixotic candidate for the nomination last time, is at 5%. Another 13% are undecided.
The poll was taken by landline and cellphone of 600 Biden voters, identified from national and state polls from 2020 to 2022. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
How vulnerable is Biden in 2024?
The findings underscore Biden’s potential vulnerability to a more mainstream challenger for the Democratic nomination, although none has emerged so far, or to a third-party candidate in the general election.
“In 2020, Joe Biden received more votes than any other president in U.S. history, yet the poll tells us that those same voters are open to other Democrats to wage a spirited primary,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “Kennedy, although a long shot at this point, starts in double digits and can’t be ignored.”
Kennedy drew the support of 33% of Biden voters who disapprove of the job he is doing as president and 35% of those who say his policies in the White House have been “too liberal.” The challenger’s appeal was strongest among self-identified conservatives, younger voters and those who don’t have a college degree.
He is the son of Robert F. Kennedy Sr., who was assassinated as he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy. An environmental lawyer, he became a prominent promoter of a link between vaccines and autism, a theory that has been discredited in scientific studies.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kennedy, 69, built a following on social media as he opposed vaccine mandates as a violation of individual liberty, at times invoking the Holocaust in comparison, and spread misinformation about the safety of the vaccine.
His views have sometimes aligned him with former President Donald Trump and his supporters. In 2017, Trump asked Kennedy to chair a presidential commission on vaccine safety.