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ASU Professor Explains Possible Goals Of Kanye West's Presidential Campaign Strategy

Published: Thursday, September 3, 2020 - 12:57pm
Updated: Thursday, September 3, 2020 - 5:48pm
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LAUREN GILGER: A lawsuit being heard [Sept. 3] is trying to keep Kanye West off the ballot in Arizona. The rapper has paid workers collecting signatures to qualify him as a presidential candidate on November's ballot here. And they say they'll be submitting tens of thousands of signatures before [the Sept. 4] deadline. West has qualified for the ballot in nearly a dozen states, and the political world is abuzz with speculation that his campaign could be driven by Republicans hoping he'll siphon off votes from Democrat Joe Biden. The Washington Post, in fact, traced the connections between West's campaign and the Republican Party in at least five of the states where he's been campaigning. And this all comes as his wife, Kim Kardashian, has asked the public for compassion and empathy as he battles bipolar disorder. So how unprecedented is this campaign and how likely is this presumptive strategy to work? For more on that, I got a hold of Arizona State University political scientist Fabian Neuner.

Update: Judge Blocks Kanye West From Running For President In Arizona

FABIAN NEUNER: So, so far, I think he's qualified in about 11 states. That's about 83 electoral votes. And [Sept. 4] is actually gonna be the last day. All of the states are going to be finished with ballot access on [Sept. 4]. So [in] Arizona's actually the last day that signatures are due. West's campaigners already stated that they, [Sept. 3] or [Sept. 2], submitting about 58,000 signatures and 39,000 are required. And they claim they're planning on submitting up to 90,000 by [Sept. 4]. And the lawsuit is concerned with whether or not Kanye West can run as an independent candidate in Arizona because he's registered as a Republican in Wyoming. And so there's a question of whether or not he's actually eligible to run as an independent in the state. And there's also a second part of the lawsuit claiming that his electors didn't submit full information, and there's some information that still required. And also, those electors are, I think the majority of them are Republicans who are listed as Republicans.

GILGER: Right. So as you're mentioning there, there seem to be connections between West's campaign and the Republican Party or at least people affiliated with it. Some of these states where he's filed are crucial battleground states in 2020, but not all of them. So what do you think is the strategy behind this?

NEUNER: Yeah, so it's, it's not entirely clear who is running this campaign. So the most important thing to note is that we're still waiting for [a Federal Election Commission] (FEC) form in terms of campaign finance information that I think should have been filed about, over 10 days ago. And so that form, if filed, would give us some insight into who is being paid to, to collect these signatures. What we do know is that in the states where lawsuits are taking place, many of those lawyers are affiliated to some degree with the Republican Party. Some of the electors that are mentioned in some of the states are also registered Republicans. And so that's where I think the news reporting comes from, that there is involvement with the Republican Party. In itself, it's important to note that there seems to be no evidence that is, it's illegal to run in a way that would help a different campaign. The only question would be, it would be illegal if there would be coordination. So if the West campaign would be coordinating with, for instance, Donald Trump's campaign, then that might be illegal. But by itself, running to be a spoiler candidate, for instance, would not be illegal in and of itself.

GILGER: So we've, we've had third party candidates run before, fringe candidates, and some have, you know, in the past potentially changed the result of the election. But is there really precedent for something like this, for somebody like this coming in in this way and being so affiliated with another party?

NEUNER: So I think the best example is actually this year in Montana. So just, I think last week a lawsuit completed where the Green Party was kicked off the Montana ballot for the election because it was ascertained that the petition gathering was actually organized by the Republican Party there, or with people affiliated with the Republican Party. So there it was specifically, I believe, without knowledge of the Green Party in Montana, there was an effort to get the party on the ballot to take away votes potentially from [the] Democratic Party.

GILGER: So do you think this, if, if West is on the ballot here and where he is on the ballot in those 11 states, do you think he really could change the outcome? Do you think it is likely that this strategy could work, that he could siphon off votes from Joe Biden?

NEUNER: So the most important thing to note is looking at which states Kanye West is going to be on the ballot. And so far, the only states that could be considered swing states in the lower tier swing states would have maybe Colorado, Virginia — even though there's a lawsuit pending there — and Iowa. And then there's currently lawsuits pending in Ohio and Wisconsin. So outside of Arizona, those would be the two states, I think, where there's the most potential that people talk about of him being a spoiler candidate. So what might be the news in the next few days is that if Kanye West really submits 90,000 signatures, one might say, "Well, the difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016 was 90,000 votes." And the libertarian kind of at the time received about 100,000 votes. And it's very different — 2016 compared to 2020. So in 2016, we had a lot of undecided voters and people disliking both candidates and choosing another option, so choosing an independent candidate. What we see in polling so far in 2020 is that there's very limited appetite for a third party candidate. We see the libertarian and the Green Party candidate polling at, maybe combined, at 3%. So a lot lower than what happened in 2016. And we also see far fewer undecided voters. Another question is, would Kanye West be able to eat into that and take away votes from Joe Biden? Some might argue that that is the strategy here. So far, the opinion polling I have seen and just political science research on, for instance, African American votes doesn't, doesn't support that idea. I think a lot of news reporting has argued that, well, potentially because Kanye West is a popular African American musician that might draw away Black voters. So far, what we see is support among black voters is very low. There doesn't seem to be this appetite for him. Actually, the one poll I did see had support for him or approval for Kanye West [higher] among Republicans than Democrats. So while some people might believe that this is a strategy that would take away specifically African American voters, I don't think we have any evidence to suggest that that is the case.

GILGER: Is it, in fact, the case then potentially that he could siphon off votes, the other way around? From Donald Trump, who he has been in the past very supportive of?

NEUNER: It's, it's very possible. So I think, I think we are simplifying here. A lot of people like to create the narrative that if there is an African American man on the ballot, that will surely take African American votes. But I think that really misunderstands Black political behavior. And there's a lot more history and I think sophistication in how Black voters make up their minds that is sometimes glossed over. I think it's a lot deeper than some of these narratives would give, would give Black voters credit.

GILGER: All right. That is Fabian Neuner, an assistant professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at ASU. Fabian, thank you so much for joining us to talk this through.

NEUNER: Sure. Thank you very much for having me. A lawsuit being heard Sept. 3 is trying to keep Kanye West off the ballot in Arizona. The rapper has paid workers collecting signatures to qualify him as a presidential candidate on November’s ballot here, and they say they’ll be submitting tens-of-thousands of signatures before the Sept. 4 deadline.

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