2020 is an unprecedented year in many aspects, standing out as an unusually disastrous and eventful period in modern history. Although it may seem like the state of the country couldn’t get any more unpredictable, a new presidential bid could dramatically change the current state of the presidential elections between now and November. Kanye West’s recent announcement of his presidential bid, unconventional though it is, could alter polling data and the political prospects of both Biden and Trump in the future.
On the 4th of July, West announced his presidential run as an independent candidate, sparking mixed reactions from the public. While some believe that he is running a serious campaign, others believe that he is running to take votes away from Joe Biden and secure an incumbent victory for Donald Trump. Most critics have stated that the intervention of an independent candidate such as Kanye West will be more likely to hurt Joe Biden’s presidential run than it will hurt Donald Trump’s. News outlets are bound to give overwhelming media coverage to Kanye West in hopes of receiving higher ratings from celebrity coverage, even as a pandemic plagues the country. As a result of this increased attention, some believe that both young and African-American voters who were previously planning on voting for Biden may choose to vote differently because of Kanye’s crossover appeal from music. Additionally, as certain young people are only voting for Biden as a way of voting against Trump, an alternative candidate could come off as appealing, despite the slim chances of a third party candidate actually winning at this point in the presidential race.
Despite the fact that most critics argue that Kanye West’s run will affect Biden’s campaign to a greater extent, some point to how West’s intervention could possibly affect Trump. According to a CNN poll, most Democrats have an unfavorable view of Kanye West, with only 12% favoring him. On the other hand, Republicans are split in favorability, with the same amount of unfavorable and favorable views of Kanye West. Since such a small percentage of Democrats support Kanye West, it is plausible that he could take more votes away from Trump than from Biden.
One factor that could harm West’s presidential run is his controversial platform. As Americans become increasingly concerned about COVID-19, a crucial part of presidential campaigns is the measures the candidates will take to keep Americans safe. Kanye West has openly spoken out against vaccines for COVID-19. He expressed his skepticism in an interview with Forbes, stating that, “When they say the way we’re going to fix COVID is with a vaccine, I’m extremely cautious. That’s the mark of the beast.” At the same time, a nationwide survey by the Washington Post found that a majority of people, regardless of political affiliation, are interested in receiving a vaccine, with 8 in 10 Democrats stating that they would probably or definitely get vaccinated. Taking an opposing position on such a salient, bipartisan issue could easily hurt Kanye West’s campaign, especially as cases continue to increase rapidly in most states. In the same interview with Forbes, West himself received mixed reactions over stating that he was alright with siphoning off African-American votes from Biden to Trump and that he has never voted before. Furthermore, at Kanye West’s recent South Carolina rally, he also made controversial statements, stating that “Harriet Tubman never actually freed the slaves” and that “everybody that has a baby will get a million dollars.”
Although West could have a significant impact on Biden and Trump’s chances of winning, the timing of him entering the presidential campaign is worth considering. As the 2020 presidential elections are in a mere four months, many state deadlines have already passed, meaning the chances of a West presidency are exceedingly low. According to the Federal Election Commission, in North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Indiana, and Maine, the deadline to file as an independent presidential candidate passed before West was able to announce his presidential candidacy. Because of these deadlines, 102 electoral votes that are normally critical to the election are out of the picture, suggesting that West’s campaign may be more focused on influencing Trump and Biden’s votes rather than truly becoming president of the United States. In addition, thirty-two states require paperwork to be filed before election day, including forthcoming deadlines for Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, and Oklahoma. If West is unable to meet these swift deadlines by the end of July, he will be automatically forced to give up around 255 electoral votes in a race where 270 electoral votes are required to win and 538 electoral votes are available overall.
The chances of winning this late in the campaign are not only slim because of deadlines, but also because such a win has never been pulled off with scarce timing. When looking at past successful candidacies, the president who announced his candidacy the latest and still won was Reagan, who announced his candidacy 357 days before the general election. Few candidates in the past have announced their candidacy at a similar number of days, as George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton both bid for presidency around 390 days before the general election. In comparison to these candidates, West’s presidential bid was just 122 days before the election, meaning the chances of success from a historical perspective are little to none.
Nevertheless, the impact of a third party candidate on election results can still be enormous, no matter their chances of winning the actual race. Taking a look at past independent candidates may offer insight on the impact that West could possibly have on the 2020 elections. In 2000, for instance, Ralph Nader ran against Al Gore and George W. Bush as a Green Party candidate. Even though Ralph Nader did not come close to winning the election, only gathering around 3% of the vote, he ended up changing the entire outcome of the election. If even a miniscule amount – around half a percent – of the one hundred thousand votes that Nader received in Florida had gone to Al Gore instead, Gore would have won the 2000 presidential election. Arguably, because of a third-party candidate, Al Gore lost the election to George W. Bush, conveying the crucial impact even a mildly popular third party candidate can have on election outcomes.
The influence of Ralph Nader in 2000 was not an outlier, as the same scenario played out in other elections as well. For example, in the 1992 presidential election, independent candidate Ross Perot won nineteen percent of the vote and split the Republican vote entirely; consequently, Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton and Republicans across the country were upset. Theoretically, even if Kanye West misses all registration deadlines and voters write in his name on their ballots, the possibility of him influencing the 2020 presidential election still stands.
All in all, Kanye West’s presidential run should be taken with a grain of salt, since he has given little evidence of a sincere campaign at this point in the election. As mentioned before, many of the election deadlines have already passed, and he has not demonstrated campaign legitimacy as of yet. The public is also not aware of whether West has yet filed papers with the Federal Election Commission and has little information on his campaign beyond his original tweet, which may or may not be a publicity stunt and/or a sign of mental illness. That said, if Kanye West is still on the ballot in November and the necessary registration steps are taken, votes will surely be taken away from one candidate or another and one of the most important elections in history may lie in the balance.
Simran Saini is a rising junior in high school from Raleigh, North Carolina who contributes to the 2020 Elections section of Next Generation Politics Blog. She is passionate about both politics and writing as well as bringing out youth voices. Simran is also involved in her local community as a youth attorney and a tutor at her local mobile home park.