How serious is Kanye?
Illustration Credit: Ioana Alexandra

To the surprise of many, American rapper Kanye West upheld his 2015 promise by announcing his intention to run for Presidential office in a tweet earlier this month. Leaving himself just 4 short months between his announcement and the election, Kanye has few options available to him to secure a place on the ballot. An unlikely candidate, Kanye’s intentions for running have remained unclear and his relationship to current President Donald Trump has added further confusion to the mix. His policies, although unsurprising, have not impressed many of his musical fan base, and are likely to alienate many Democratic voters.

Kanye’s presidential bid has received mixed levels of support from other famous faces, with Paris Hilton, Hilary Duff and Tiffany Haddish mocking the announcement with their own presidential tweets. Elon Musk, famous for his engineering and technological advancements, initially handed Kanye his full support until it was clear Kanye would be running on a pro-life, anti-vaccination platform. In a tweet just four days later, Musk stated “we may have more differences of opinion than I anticipated,” which came at no surprise to Musk’s followers. 

In an interview with Forbes, Kanye denounced his support for Trump and gave clarification on his pro-life and anti-vaccination position. He believes “Planned Parenthoods have been placed inside cities by white supremacists to do the Devils’ work” and that he is “pro-life because he is following the word of the Bible”. However, since the interview his stance has shifted. 

it brings into question how serious his bid could be

At a recent rally, Kanye emotionally spoke about how his wife, Kim Kardashian-West, almost terminated her pregnancy but he experienced a divine intervention and decided against it. However, after questioning from a pro-choice activist, he backtracked and said his “stance is not to make abortion illegal at all. It should always be legal,” claiming there should be increased financial support for expectant parents. The promise of $1m dollars for each baby born may well be attractive to potential voters but without considering the financial implications of such a policy, it brings into question how serious his bid could be.

His anti-vaccination stance is equally as controversial, particularly with the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the same interview, Kanye said “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. They want to put chips inside of us, they want to do all kinds of things, to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven”. Although on the more extreme end, Kanye’s opposition to vaccinations will appeal to those who have concerns over the safety of vaccines and the speed at which a Covid vaccine is being approved.

Kanye stands minimal chance of winning the presidency

With concerns over the seriousness of his campaign and such little time before the election, how serious can he be about running for office? Unable to stand for a major political party, Kanye stands minimal chance of winning the presidency. However, standing on a Democratic or Republican platform is not the only way to get on the ballot. What are Kanye’s options over the course of the election campaign? 

The first option is to run as a third-party candidate, independent of the two major political parties. This requires navigation through complex state ballot access laws with varying requirements and application deadlines and large financial output. Laws differ in each of the 50 states, but the majority require a certain threshold of signatories. Unfortunately for Kanye, several of the petition deadlines have already passed for larger states. Alternatively, some states allow for an access fee in lieu of a successful petition. Fortunately for Kanye, money is no obstacle. 

Third-party candidates have never won a general election, largely due to the design of the electoral system itself. However, that does not mean independents have not tried. Strong attempts have not been made in previous elections: George Wallace in 1968 and Ross Perot in 1992. Wallace gained 46 electoral college votes, winning southern, segregationist states whereas Perot took no electoral college votes but 18.1% of the popular vote. This is where the system fails independent candidates. 

As the electorate vote for electors who cast electoral college votes on their behalf, without both widespread and concentrated support it is nearly impossible for an independent candidate to take the White House. In the case of Wallace, his support was concentrated largely in the southern states he won. Although this was enough to gain some electoral college votes, his support was not strong enough to win the required 270 votes. Similarly, for Perot, his support was more widespread across the 50 states, but that support was not concentrated enough to secure even one electoral college vote. 

Write-in candidates are unlikely but not impossible

Kanye’s second option is to run as a write-in candidate, where simply voters add his name to the ballot on the day. As some states have not legislated for this, it is unlikely Kanye will include this in his strategy. A cheaper option it may be, but difficult to coordinate nationwide. Write-in candidates are unlikely but not impossible. The presence of any write in ballots is not likely to make a significant dent in his overall vote share.  

So, where does this leave Kanye’s dream of the Presidency?  The variability of each state’s ballot access laws will act against him, especially due to the limited amount of time he has before the election. So far, it appears running as an independent, third-party candidate is the route Kanye is taking. Successfully paying the $35,000 filing fee, Kanye will appear on Oklahoma’s Presidential ballot. Given an independent’s minimal chance of success, it is here we begin to see potential reasons for Kanye following through on his promise to run.  

Serious third-party contenders, such as Wallace and Perot, can garner enough support to steal votes from the Democratic and Republican candidates. It has been said, upon analysis of the 1992 election, that Perot cost incumbent President Bush his re-election. It is clear to see why: Perot had the support of over 19 million American citizens. If those 19 million people had cast their vote for Bush instead, Clinton would not have won the Presidency. 

Translating Perot’s actions into Kanye’s campaign, we may see a lot of similarities when November comes. Kanye has been vocal with his support for the incumbent President previously, suggesting that “Trump is the closest president we’ve had in years to allowing God to still be part of the conversation.” His policies may be similar to Trump’s, but his musical career may appeal to young, Democratic voters. In a recent survey by the New York Times, Biden is leading against Trump with voters aged 18-34 by 34%. Even if Trump can’t tighten the gap, Kanye stealing some of those votes will split the Democratic vote and give Trump the edge he needs to get re-elected. Given the fact Kanye will have been advised on his near impossible chances of winning, there is little other reason for him to run than to split the Democratic vote. 

Aside from the youth vote, Kanye could also attempt to split the Democratic vote by getting his name on the ballot in certain swing states. When comparing a list of the 12 Super States that are most likely to be targeted, the majority of which still have open deadlines for Kanye to appear on the ballot, this motivation becomes clear. It is not unreasonable to suggest that if he appears on the ballots for those swing seats, he could steal votes from either party, subsequently having a huge impact on who wins these crucial states. 

Americans also have a 30% somewhat favorable opinion in comparison to just 6% of white Americans

However, if Kanye’s intention is to split the Democratic vote, the opposite is possible. As Trump and Kanye appear to agree on certain issues, such as abortion, it is also possible to suggest that Kanye may secure some votes among black Americans. A YouGov poll in 2015 suggested that 25% of black Americans would consider voting for him, compared to just 3% of white Americans. The same poll suggests black Americans also have a 30% somewhat favorable opinion in comparison to just 6% of white Americans. This is unsurprising, given that a whopping 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump in 2016, and it doesn’t appear their position will falter.

Therefore, there is a very real possibility of Kanye winning over some of Trump’s supporters amidst the racial tension in America currently. However, it seems unlikely that Kanye will steal many Republican votes from Trump and cost him the presidency. Although it is improbable that Kanye will do major damage to Trump’s voter base, we cannot rule out the possibility that history may repeat itself and he could take enough of Trump’s vote to cost him the re-election. 

Kanye’s run for presidency may well be little more than part of Trump’s tactical strategy to get re-elected. However, whilst it may be an attempt to divide the Democratic vote, it is unclear just how strong Kanye’s position is and how likely he is to do enough damage to Biden’s campaign. It is also unclear how he will fare among Trump supporters, if Trump will regret suggesting he hopes to run against him, and if Kanye unintentionally does more harm to the Republican vote instead.