Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s potential impact on the Florida ballot

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign for the presidency is a long shot, but his attempt to get on the ballot in Florida could still have significant ramifications on the 2024 presidential election. 

With President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump in a tight contest, the addition of Kennedy to the electoral ballot gives Americans other options, which in turn threatens to siphon voters away from both major-party candidates.

Kennedy’s campaign is seeking ballot access in all 50 states, including Florida, although whether he’s successful in putting his name before voters in the Sunshine State won’t be known until later this year. 

A recent poll from Florida Atlantic University found that 10% of likely voters in the state favored Kennedy. Dr. Carol Bishop, a pollster at FAU, said that the double-digit support for Kennedy is not surprising.

“In the data that we have in many states, people assumed that RFK, Jr. being in the election would actually take away from Democratic voters,” said Bishop. “And what we’re seeing is in a lot of states, RFK being in the pool takes away from Republicans who don’t want to vote for Trump.”

Brian May, former chief of staff to ex-Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, agreed that Kennedy could draw a substantial number of votes away from Trump in Florida.

“He’s a little bit like a Ross Perot kind of candidate,” said May, referring to the wealthy Texas businessman who ran for president as an independent in 1992 and 1992, drawing significant media attention and support. “(Kennedy is) going to be a protest vote.”

May added,  “I think he’s gonna get a small fraction of the electorate right along the way that could influence the election right now. But it doesn’t appear to be enough to drive a Biden victory in Florida.”

Biden trails the former president in Florida by 4 to 9 percent, according to recent polls and few political analysts consider Florida, which Trump carried in 2016 and 2020, to be a swing state in 2024. 

Being a third-party candidate also means coming to grips with an electoral system that heavily favors the two major party candidates.

“So many folks believe that voting third-party is throwing away your vote,” said Michael Hernandez, a Democratic consultant who assisted Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. “You don’t have a shot at being elected president without winning the Electoral College. He’s not going to get one [Electoral College vote].” 

For a third-party candidate, just getting on the ballot in Florida isn’t easy. One way to do it is to submit petitions with 145,000 verified signatures — a difficult, time-consuming, and costly task. So Kennedy’s campaign went a different route. 

The Reform Party, a small, centrist party established by Perot in the mid-1990s, nominated Kennedy in June as its presidential candidate in Florida, meaning his name would appear on the ballot on the party’s line. However the state Division of Elections has yet to certify the nomination and is not expected to do so until August or September. 

After the Kennedy campaign incorrectly asserted that Kennedy had officially made it onto the Florida ballot, Nicholas Hensley, chairman of the Reform Party, quipped, “I think someone got ahead of the horse,” according to the Washington Post

The Kennedy campaign did not respond to an interview request.

Perhaps the most telling example of the potential impact of independent presidential candidates occurred in Florida during the 2000 election when third-party challenger Ralph Nader garnered more than 97,000 votes in the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The contest in Florida was decided by just over 500 votes and tipped the presidency to Bush. 

“Because it’s an Electoral College, (third-party candidates) themselves have no chance to win, zero,” said Mitchell Berger, who worked for Biden in Florida in 2020 and who has been involved in Democratic politics for more than 40 years

“But,” he added, “they might cause one or the other to win.”

Duvasana Bisoondial is a sophomore majoring in Digital Journalism and getting a certificate in Women's and Gender Studies at Florida International University. Her goal as a future journalist is to highlight the social and cultural contributions made by Caribbean immigrants in America and other parts of the world.
Currently, she enjoys adding on to her list of books to be read and watching Indian movies, both old and new.

Valentina Gaspari is a sophomore majoring in Digital Broadcasting. A bilingual woman who enjoys traveling and covering/editing stories, Gaspari is passionate about working in the news or entertainment field as a reporter or producer after graduation.

Carlton is a Digital Broadcasting student and intends to pursue a career in journalism. Born and raised in Broward County, he hopes to combine his passion for this community and storytelling to deliver news, insights, and perspectives to the people of South Florida.