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Keller: RFK Jr.'s campaign shows just how out of touch Republicans, Democrats are with young voters

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is reaching younger voters through social media
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is reaching younger voters through social media 02:44

BOSTON - "Right now, I'm the top choice for young voters in this country," declared independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a recent TikTok video.

Not quite. Kennedy trails both Trump and Biden in the polls.

Kennedy is reaching younger voters  

But his healthy 18% support among 18- to 29-year-olds in new battleground state surveys (conducted by the New York Times, Siena College and the Philadelphia Inquirer) reflects how many of them get their news mostly from social media like TikTok and YouTube, where the message they get is very different from mainstream media's portrayal of Kennedy as part of the conspiratorial fringe.

"If you're under 30, you probably know my name, but you may not know much about me," said Kennedy, who frequently name-checks his famous family online while quickly pivoting to rhetoric targeted to potential voters under 30.

"As president I'm gonna end the forever wars. They've bankrupted your generation and left you with 33 trillion in debt. ... The political elites want you to own nothing and be happy. ... I'm gonna help you buy your first home with a 3% government-backed mortgage rate plan. I'm also going to bring rental prices down, which no one in Washington seems to want to talk about," he said.

Can he deliver on his promises?

Could Kennedy deliver on all that? Mainstream analysts are skeptical. But online, Kennedy stresses skepticism of the mainstream, a widespread sentiment among young people and others. And Kennedy's social media is replete with cultural cues like a super-casual YouTube video with champion surfer Kelly Slater, complete with video of Kennedy hanging ten. "It feels to me like everyone is always out there saying, 'You need to vote. You need to vote," noted Slater. "Well, they want you to vote the way they want you to vote."

Which presidential candidate will Kennedy hurt most?

So is this a formula for anything beyond being a spoiler in the race?

Probably not, but the slickness of Kennedy's social media pitch and its apparent success so far with an important voter group highlights how out of touch with younger voters the two major-party candidates are. Those videos reach out to young people across the political spectrum on topics like personal freedom, foreign wars and environmental protection.

And if the question isn't can he win, but who will he hurt most in November? -  that's still a pretty critical question in this race.  

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