Rapper and former Donald Trump supporter Kanye West is running for president with the backing of a handful of GOP operatives who are betting he can pull Black voters from former Vice President Joe Biden.
But Democrats aren’t sweating West at this point — and Republicans don’t view him as a boon to their cause, either. For good reason: In a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, West garnered 2 percent support overall among registered voters, 7 points behind the “no opinion” option. His support among African American voters is just as meager — 2 percent — and Biden’s 9-point national lead over Trump is unmoved with or without West on the ballot.
“I think a lot of people of color view Kanye’s bid for the presidency as a quixotic one, and they don’t see him as being legitimate for the office. It’s more of yet another Kanye publicity stunt,” said Ron Christie, a Black Republican strategist and former aide to Dick Cheney. “Democrats traditionally get 90-plus percent of the black vote. I think a lot of people are going to look at Kanye and just say, ‘I don’t think so.’”
The POLITICO/Morning Consult findings help explain why strategists from both parties said in interviews that they don’t see him as a factor in the race, at least not yet. West has successfully filed paperwork as a third-party candidate in fewer than a dozen states and Republicans in battleground states such as Wisconsin and Ohio have organized to get him on the ballot.
Fueling suspicion of the rapper’s effort is the fact that some of the organizers are Trump supporters and Republican strategists with at least loose connections to the president’s reelection effort. They include Lane Ruhland, a former general counsel for the Wisconsin Republican Party who has also represented the Trump reelection campaign and dropped off West’s nominating papers. Gregg Keller, a veteran GOP operative who formerly served as executive director of the American Conservative Union, has been spearheading the West campaign.
But a number of Democratic strategists said that the framing of West — a Black man and popular rap artist — as an inherently appealing presidential candidate for Black voters reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of both West and Black voters. While African Americans are Democrats’ most loyal voting bloc, West frequently espouses GOP talking points on issues like abortion and the legacy of slavery. His most notable political appearances of the past three years have been in tandem with Trump, whose disapproval rating sits at 79 percent with Black voters.
“The bottom line is that Kanye West is an entertainer. That’s not to say that he can’t participate in electoral politics, but his candidacy is more a distraction,” said Derrick Clay, an Ohio-based strategist and chair of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus Foundation. Clay said the GOP’s propping up of Kanye is a reflection of their fear of the millennial and suburban vote, two groups that are polling in Biden’s favor.
“I think that strategy is going to backfire on them,” he continued.
West is most popular among Gen Zers, a majority of whom will be eligible to cast votes for the first time in November. His favorable ratings with the demographic are at 31 percent. However, 6 percent said they would vote for him.
More, West’s lack of a clear policy platform outside his disdain for Democratic politics is giving his small network of supporters little to cling to. His campaign website is a single page with a laundry list of goals the rapper has for his presidency, including reducing the national debt and reforming the criminal justice system. The 10 points are accompanied by Bible verses. He has held one campaign rally since announcing his candidacy, which prompted his wife, Kim Kardashian West, to publicly address his mental health struggles.
It remains unclear whether West will appear on the ballot in key states. He narrowly met the signature requirement to get on the ballot in Ohio, while in Wisconsin, he missed the deadline for qualifying by just minutes. Elections officials in both states are sorting through his paperwork to determine whether he will be allowed on the presidential ballot.
West missed the deadline to file as a third party candidate in 10 states but has said he will rely on write-in ballots to make him competitive in states where his name is not printed on the ballot.
Trump has been aggressively courting Black voters, hoping to cut into Biden’s margin. His campaign has run advertisements courting African Americans and has highlighted Biden’s prominent role in passing the 1984 crime bill, which resulted in the widespread imprisonment of Black people. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the reelection campaign announced plans to open storefronts stocked with Trump campaign gear in urban areas.
Trump received just 8 percent of the Black vote in 2016, but his advisers argue that if he could get into the double digits it could alter the outcome of a close race. Those efforts, however, could be complicated by Biden’s decision to tap Kamala Harris as his running mate.
Still, Democratic operatives say they are paying close attention to West.
“It is clear that Republicans and Trump think they will benefit from having Kanye West on the ballot. To counter his propped-up candidacy, we have to engage young Black voters early and consistently on the issues that matter to them most and through the voices of people who understand their struggles and concerns,” said Justin Myers, CEO of For Our Future, a union-funded super PAC focused on field organizing.
Other Democratic operatives see Republicans’ efforts to help West as not only futile but also slightly insidious, given his fragile mental state.
“I do think Kanye is, unfortunately, at the whims of folks who don’t have his, his daughter’s, his children’s best interests in mind with their policy,” said Quentin James, executive director of The Collective PAC. “To be helping that, I think, is just sad. And I think they’re taking advantage of his mental health situation to be very honest.”
The Trump campaign said it has nothing to do with West’s campaign.
“We have no knowledge of anything Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman.
James also added that he does not underestimate the threat of a third party challenger who could siphon Democratic votes.
“I think this is a serious moment, in that Kanye West could peel off some of those voters who feel like Donald Trump or Joe Biden isn’t the answer to them,” James said. “I think people should know if you aren’t supporting Joe Biden or if you’re voting for Kanye West, you’re voting for Donald Trump. A vote for Kanye West is a vote for Donald Trump.”
Morning Consult is a global data intelligence company, delivering insights on what people think in real time by surveying tens of thousands across the globe every single day.