According to FiveThirtyEight’s definition, there are currently 11 major Republican candidates for president. Ten of them have previously held or currently hold major elected office (president, senator, governor, representative, mayor) — and then there’s Vivek Ramaswamy. But you wouldn’t guess at his lack of political experience from how he’s performing (at least so far). The Ohio businessman and first-time candidate has managed to poll higher than three current or former governors and receive about as much Google search interest as a former vice president and a former U.N. ambassador.
There are literally hundreds of people without political experience running for president, so how has Ramaswamy managed to capture so much public attention while the others still languish in obscurity? We think there are at least three reasons.
1. He’s rich
Sometimes, the simplest explanations are the best ones. Ramaswamy has founded two successful companies: Roivant Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company focused on drug development, and Strive Asset Management. His career as an entrepreneur has made him a wealthy man. Earlier this year, Forbes estimated his net worth as at least $630 million.
The best-funded candidates don’t always win, but you do need a credible amount of money to be a serious presidential candidate, and Ramaswamy’s wealth has given him that. As of March 31, he had loaned $10.25 million to his own campaign — twice as much as former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had raised in total up to that point. (Most candidates in the GOP primary jumped in after March 31, so we don’t know how they stack up, but we’ll have a more accurate tally by July 15, when second-quarter fundraising reports are due.)
And he’s investing that money in the things necessary for a successful campaign. His campaign tells FiveThirtyEight it has about 40 people on staff, including veterans of former President Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns. And he’s been racking up the frequent-flier miles: According to our data tracking candidate visits to early states, as of July 7, he had spent 17 days campaigning in Iowa and 14 in New Hampshire — more than any other major candidate.
2. He’s really good at getting media
Ramaswamy had another big advantage over the other non-politicians in the GOP primary: He already had a platform from which to reach the Republican base. In 2021, Ramaswamy wrote a book called “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam” warning against the creep of liberal politics into business practices. As a result, even before his presidential campaign, he was a frequent guest on conservative cable news to talk about the dangers of “wokeness.” From December 18, 2020, through the day he launched his campaign, he appeared on Fox News at least 110 times and Newsmax at least 12 times. That includes 20 appearances on a “Fox and Friends”-branded show and 22 appearances on Tucker Carlson’s show — on which he announced he was running for president on Feb. 21, 2023.
He’s continued the media blitz as a presidential candidate; he is known for almost never turning down an interview request. Since his launch date, he has appeared on Fox News at least 14 times and Newsmax at least 10 times. For comparison, according to Haley’s IMDb page, she has appeared on Fox News just nine times and Newsmax just three times during that span. Ramaswamy has also appeared on several conservative podcasts, including those hosted by Candace Owens, Tim Pool and former Rep. Ron Paul.
3. He doesn’t look like other Republican politicians
Ramaswamy may not like to dwell on it — he believes in an American national identity rather than focusing on race — but his campaign could be historic. The son of immigrants from India, he would be the first nonwhite Republican presidential nominee and the first Hindu president. Research suggests that some Republican voters are attracted to nonwhite candidates because they like having conservative beliefs validated by someone who isn’t white. Others may appreciate having a nonwhite candidate who can preempt attacks that the GOP is racist. Ramaswamy has even explicitly made this argument with regard to religion: “I can stand up for [Judeo-Christian] values without anybody accusing me of being a Christian nationalist,” he told NPR.
More important, though, may be Ramaswamy’s age. He is just 37 years old, making him, in his words, “the first millennial ever to run for U.S. president as a Republican.” That has helped him stand out in a year when age is especially salient thanks to the advanced years of both the Democratic and Republican front-runners; according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, even 28 percent of Republicans think Trump is too old to serve another term as president.
These factors have helped put Ramaswamy in the 2024 presidential conversation alongside more experienced politicians. That’s an impressive achievement — but the really hard part will be taking the next step and being genuinely competitive for the GOP nomination.
The good news for Ramaswamy is that, when Republicans get to know him, they tend to like him. According to Morning Consult, 49 percent of potential Republican primary voters have a favorable opinion of him, and only 14 percent have an unfavorable opinion. (The rest have no opinion or haven’t heard of him.) That favorable-to-unfavorable ratio is the highest in the GOP field. And (positive) word is getting around about him: In the same poll, which was conducted in late June, 36 percent of potential Republican primary voters had heard something positive about Ramaswamy in the past week, second only to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (40 percent). But while 22 percent of respondents had heard something negative about DeSantis, only 10 percent had heard something negative about Ramaswamy.
But that isn’t translating into votes — at least, not at the rate he needs. While the latest survey from Echelon Insights did find Ramaswamy surging into the double digits nationally, he remains at only 4 percent in our polling average. That’s pretty good for a guy with no prior political experience, but it’s a long way off from front-runner Trump’s 52 percent.
And, ironically, if Ramaswamy ever does become a genuine threat to Trump, he may lose his biggest advantage. Ramaswamy has so far benefited from flying under the radar somewhat; no one’s hearing anything bad about him because no other candidate really has much of a reason to attack him. But if that changes, Ramaswamy can probably say goodbye to his unblemished reputation.