Could Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Be the First Independent Candidate to Make the Debate Stage Since 1992?

A new Quinnipiac University poll found independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has the support of more than 1 in 5 voters in a hypothetical general election matchup with President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.


A new Quinnipiac University poll found independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has the support of more than 1 in 5 voters in a hypothetical general election matchup with President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

  • The Quinnipiac poll of registered voters found Biden leading Trump 39% to 36% in a hypothetical general election, with Kennedy earning 22% support. Kennedy actually leads the two presidents among independents, with 36% favoring the environmental lawyer and son of Robert F. Kennedy while 31% support Trump and 30% back Biden.
  • In a two-way race, Biden is ahead of Trump by one point, earning 47% to Trump’s 46% of the vote. Trump leads independents by a point, 45% to 44%. Given the margin of error, both results are effectively tied.
  • Biden and Trump both hold similarly dominant leads over their primary opposition. Trump holds a 49-point lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 64% to 15%. Former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley trails third with 8%, and no other candidate polls higher than 3%.
  • Biden leads spiritual guru Marianne Williamson by a titanic 69-point margin, 77% to 8%. Newly announced candidate Rep. Dean Phillips was in third with 6%.
  • Phillips earned 6% against an incumbent president after less than a week as a candidate, more than Vivek Ramaswamy (3%), Sen. Tim Scott (3%), ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (3%), and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (1%) have earned after months in the race.
  • Kennedy, the left-leaning independent presidential candidate, has earned surprisingly high polling results since announcing he’d mount an independent bid earlier this year.
  • If he can sustain his support in polling, Kennedy would be the first independent candidate to make the general election debate stage since Ross Perot debated President George H. W. Bush and then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in 1992.
  • The only other independent candidate to appear in a general election debate was Rep. John Anderson in 1980, but he only debated Republican nominee Ronald Reagan as President Jimmy Carter refused to appear on the debate stage with Anderson.
  • It’s not hard to see either Biden or Trump using a similar excuse to get out of the general election debates should RFK Jr. qualify.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • A recent poll from USA Today/Suffolk University also found Biden and Trump polling in the high thirties in a matchup with Kennedy. The two men were deadlocked at 37% of the vote, with Kennedy farther behind at 13%.
  • CNN’s Harry Enten cautioned, “Non-major-party candidates almost always fade down the stretch. We can see this, again, by using the [Gary Johnson] example from 2016. The former New Mexico governor polled at 4% or above in every national poll before September 2020 that met CNN’s standards for publication. He averaged 8% of the vote in those polls and frequently registered in the double digits. Johnson ended up getting a mere 3% come Election Day.”
  • Politico noted, “The overall 22 percent does not suggest he can yet break through the two-party system and put his name on the Electoral College map next year as an independent. But the bigger threat his candidacy poses to Biden and Trump is the possibility of siphoning just enough votes from one of them to swing an otherwise coin-flip state in November.”



  • Fox News highlighted the USA Today/Suffolk University poll’s findings on congressional popularity: “Voters’ views of the Senate fared slightly better than of the House of Representatives, with 36% holding a favorable view of the former, and 24% of the latter. 42% held an unfavorable view of the Senate, but 54% held an unfavorable view of the House. 22% were undecided toward both.”
  • The Washington Examiner observed, “Despite the tensions of the war in the Middle East, Biden hasn’t lost support amid Democratic disagreement over support for Israel as it continues a ground invasion of Gaza. Trump’s legal drama has not hurt in polls. The Quinnipiac poll is another piece of evidence the GOP base is willing to stick with the former president.”
  • The Daily Mail noted, “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was attracting more donors with Republican leanings than Democrats ahead of last month’s announcement that he was launching an independent presidential run. But new polling raises questions about whether the ex-Democrat will suck more support away from former President Donald Trump or President Joe Biden. A Politico analysis found that $2 million of Kennedy’s large-dollar donations through September 30 came from supporters who previously gave money to Republicans, while $1.4 million came from those who previously contributed to Democrats.”


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© Dominic Moore, 2023