US election 2024: The Haleys, the Kennedys and the undecided will be decisive in the election

The US presidential race is so close that “non-voters” are tipping the scales: Americans who want neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump. Nikki Haley, Bobby Kennedy Jr. and their supporters could provide the decisive votes.

“Super Tuesday” was only moderately great for Nikki Haley. On the general election day with votes in 15 US states, she won only one, that in Vermont. However, your respectable success did not change the outcome of the internal party race, because your opponent Donald Trump has been de facto the winner for a long time. The Republican presidential candidate is the same as in 2016 and 2020.

US election 2024 like US election 2020

Even if the official freestyle isn't due until summer, the duel on November 5, 2024 will again be decided between Joe Biden against Donald Trump – a race between two elephants of the same size and age, in which the one who is briefly inattentive loses. As things stand, that will be the incumbent Joe Biden. Almost all polls show his challenger Donald Trump ahead – albeit so narrowly that the lead is within the usual margin of error.

So it's still too early to declare a winner, but with Nikki Haley's exit from the candidate race it is at least clear which groups will decide the US election: the Haleys, the Kennedys and the Independents.

How do Nikki Haley's followers vote?

Former US President Trump continues to have a firm grip on the Republicans, even though… Nikki Haley never had a chance, she could tip the scales in the election. Or rather, their followers. Depending on the survey and the state, 30 percent refuse to vote for the right-wing populist at their head. In more conservative areas such as Virginia and North Carolina, around a third do not want to vote for either Trump or Haley.

The losing candidates usually recommend that their supporters vote for the primary winner, if only for the sake of unity. Not so Nikki Haley. Donald Trump must “first earn” their support, she said when announcing her withdrawal. In other words: If the Haley faction within the Republicans remains stubborn in the fall, in the worst case scenario Trump will lose the decisive votes.

It probably won't be that drastic, but even a smaller proportion of around 20 percent anti-Trumpists could suddenly make the election outcome in deeply Republican states like Utah or Montana. Not to mention areas where conservatives are already only ahead of Democrats by a tiny margin, like Florida or North Carolina.

What could be tricky for candidate Trump is not just the number of his opponents, but also who exactly Haley chose over him: moderate to liberal conservatives and a relatively large number of women. They also consider the former head of state no longer suitable for the office because of his various legal difficulties. “You need the party united behind you and you can't afford to lose more than ten percent to the other side,” pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson told CNN.

Bobby Kennedy Jr. – the third man

The same calculation also applies to the Democratic Party. And here a 70-year-old with a famous name is eating away at the ruling party's vote cushion: RFK, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., also called Bobby, nephew of the legendary US President John F. Kennedy. Traditionally, the third, fourth or fifth candidates play no role in the US two-party system, which also applies to him. Nevertheless, in surveys it is currently between 11 and 13 percent, which is unusually high.

Even his popularity ratings rival those of Biden and Trump. The fact that the 70-year-old is doing so well in the polls is of course because of a name that still electrifies Americans, but more so because they don't particularly value either the Democratic or Republican front-runner. But the third man will hardly be the laughing third in the end.

Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (l.) with a young supporter

© Yomiuri Shimbun/Picture Alliance/AP

Politically, Bobby Jr. wanders somewhere between lateral thinking, various fundamentalisms and, at the same time, an extremely free market economy. He happily spreads Covid-19 and vaccination conspiracy theories, but the Libertarian Party still ensnares him, or perhaps precisely because of that.

Kennedy was once with the Democrats

Kennedy originally wanted to run for the Democrats, but US President Joe Biden was the candidate there, which is why RFK decided to run as an independent. In his demeanor and chances of success, he is reminiscent of the character of Conan Roy from the political series “Succession”. He, too, an older gentleman with confused ideas from an influential family, travels around the country with an outsider program – in vain.

Never in the history of the USA has the third candidate been elected president, and that will not change with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. But if he gets even a small share of the votes that the polls are now giving him, the few percentage points could really hurt one of the two major candidates. Just in his spirit: “My intention is to spoil it for both of them,” Kennedy said recently.

The influence of the will also be decisive in November so-called independents will – although it is unclear how. Politically, these undecided voters are now by far the largest group of voters in the USA. 27 percent of Americans are either in the Democratic or Republican camps, which is lower than ever before. But 43 percent see themselves as neither on one side nor on the other, even if the conservatives are slightly in the majority among them.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are tied

“The increase in independents is more at the expense of the Democrats, which was to be expected since the Democrats have been the largest political group to date,” says the Gallup polling institute, which compiled the numbers. When asked specifically which of the two candidates they would prefer, the polls show a deadlock of around 45 percent each.

The seven percent of independents who say they lean neither toward Republicans nor Democrats will likely be the deciding factor in the election in November. The true independents, they are about 4.6 million. In 2016, in the closest presidential race in recent memory, the difference in votes between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was just half, or more precisely: 2.8 million.

Sources: “The Hill”, Quinnipiac Polls, Pew Research Center, RealClearPolitics, Gallup, FiveThirtyEight, Axios, “Politico”