As Presidential Candidate and VP, Harris Struggles With Favorability Among Voters

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By Quentin Choy

A recent poll from Morning Consult/Politico show troubling numbers for the Biden administration – vice president Harris in particular.

Harris Underwater With Registered Voters

According to the poll, 47 percent of registered voters held a negative view of Kamala Harris compared to the 45 percent of registered voters who held favorable views of her.

In the same poll, President Biden was viewed favorably by 52 percent and unfavorably by 45 percent of those questioned.

The Morning-Consult/Politico poll was conducted in mid-July 2021, and 1,997 registered voters were interviewed according to The Hill.

For those who followed Kamala Harris’ political career, such poll numbers are unsurprising.

Favorability During the 2020 Democratic Primary

When Harris ran her presidential campaign in the 2020 Democratic primary, she faced several critical issues.

Harris, while a formidable contender in the primary was pushed back and forth between different political “lanes.”

Joe Biden held a firm grip on the centrist lane, promising to “restore the soul of America.”

Bernie Sanders secured the lane of economic liberalism, with a voting record to show for it.

Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren stopped Harris from claiming the title as the “female Senator on stage.”

Pete Buttigieg grabbed onto the college-educated and identity-focused voters.

Cory Booker was African-American, and Andrew Yang was Asian-American.

Tulsi Gabbard, the bane of Harris’ campaign was a woman of color.

In terms of identity, as well as policy, there was little room for Harris to carve out a unique space for herself.

Her campaign seemed unfocused in terms of its stances on issues. Harris rose to fame attacking Biden on his record on bussing. However, after the attacks in that night’s debate, the campaign had t-shirts and merchandise of her Biden attack ready to sell.

Some people viewed her attack as fishy and as an attempt to boost her campaign through viral moments rather than policy.

Kamala Harris was a cosponsor of Senator Sanders’ Medicare-for-all bill in the Senate in 2019.

Once the primary and debates started to kick in, Harris realized that there was little space for her in the progressive lane and prepared to adjust course.

With an unfocused campaign, Harris’ popularity was declining.

Then, came the deathblow.

Hawai’i Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard attacked Harris in one of the worst ways possible. She simply ran through her full political career, citing inconsistencies, bad judgment, and failed policies.

Harris was unprepared for such a substantive attack, especially one of such length. How could she defend her entire political career as attorney general of California?

Voters remembered the attack by Gabbard on Harris’ record on truancy, marijuana, and the death penalty, and Harris couldn’t separate her political future from her political past.

While the writing was on the wall, her campaign’s collapse was still shocking to political observers.

Citing low campaign funds, she ended her campaign in December 2019, dropping out before the first caucus was held in Iowa.

“Her failure to follow through on the Biden attack, while he pushed back off the debate stage combined with her inability to explain her support for Sanders’ Medicare-for-All plan contributed to a fall as swift as her rise … there was no good middle ground on health care policy in the Democratic primary.”

from “Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency” by J. Allen and A. Parnes

While serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Harris gained popularity among Democrats and infamy among Republicans for her criticism of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Her viral criticisms catapulted her into national fame and into the public consciousness.

Favorability Months Into the Vice Presidency

After promising to select an African-American female for the vice presidency, Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris, shocking some political observers.

Some praised the choice, gladly seeing a woman of Harris’ background elevated to such a high position of power.

Others scratched their heads, wondering why Biden selected such a controversial figure, especially since her campaign fell apart before primary voting began in Iowa.

In one of her first major tasks as vice president, Biden gave her difficult task of immigration, likely to protect his own popularity numbers as president.

Immigration is always a controversial subject, and with Harris being the human embodiment of the administration’s handling of the issue, disaster was bound to happen.

In an interview about why Harris had not yet visited the U.S.-Mexico border amid increased immigration, she could not give a precise answer.

To even the casual viewer, Harris’ lack of political talent was on display, struggling to answer if and why she had or had not been to the border.

Her speech in Guatemala marked the peak of that fateful foreign trip as vice president Harris stated the Biden administration’s stance on immigration.

Famously telling migrants “do not come” and that they would be “turned back,” many cited little difference with the immigration policies of the Trump administration, which Harris heavily criticized as Senator.

Many viewed her speech as hypocritical and as an abandonment of the morals for which she fought earlier in her political career.

Fixing Course?

With Harris as the heir to the Biden presidency, some Democrats in D.C. are concerned over Harris’ favorability numbers, especially if she were to run for the presidency in 2024.

Harris shares a visceral Hillary-Clintonesque dislike from certain voters, a visceral dislike that President Biden doesn’t face as much of.

Rather, President Biden receives residual, unenthusiastic support from voters, generally from his time in the Obama administration.

For Harris, the road ahead looks tough, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House somehow tries to prevent her from being the nominee in 2024.

With her name recognition and tenure as vice president, Harris is easily the frontrunner for Democrats in 2024.

In a “crisis dinner,” Harris and Democratic strategists worked to figure out how to fix Harris’ favorability numbers and to salvage her vice presidency.

During the dinner, strategists aimed to reframe the unfavorability of Harris in the vice presidential role.

According to Axios, one attendee suggested acknowledgments of “sexist overtones” in criticism of Harris. The same attendee wants this message pushed broadly, saying Harris should “make sure the press knows this.”

Conclusion

My view on this whole scenario may seem harsh, and it very well could be.

I should start by saying I obviously don’t know Kamala Harris, and this criticism isn’t an attack on her personality or character, but on her political talent and viability as a future presidential nominee.

I think the Biden White House should let Kamala Harris continue as vice president, but they should let her fail if her unpopularity numbers continue to climb.

I don’t think the White House should focus its time trying to save someone who holds little chance of defeating a Republican in the general election.

Whether that Republican is Ron DeSantis, an ascendant Donald Trump, or someone else, Harris faces little chance of victory.

When she accepted the vice presidency and heirship to the Biden presidency, Harris knew of the potential political risks.

Should she run in 2024, other Democrats should run against her. They should definitely cite her failed campaign in 2020 and should offer bolder visions for voters.

Biden and the White House should sit out on her campaign, letting voters decide who the nominee is without offering support.

If Democrats want to change direction away from Harris to win in 2024, the White House should allow voters to make that change if they so choose.

While it sounds harsh and despite your own feelings about vice president Harris, the White House and the Democratic Party does itself little good in trying to salvage someone who is unpopular among Americans and whose first presidential campaign ended in disaster.

Related Posts

Sources

  1. Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes (2021)
  2. Biden handed Harris a political grenade. Can she defuse it?, Politico
  3. What does America think of Kamala Harris?, The Los Angeles Times
  4. Harris under water with 47 percent unfavorable rating in new poll, The Hill
  5. How Kamala Harris’s Campaign Unraveled, The New York Times
  6. Scoop: Inside a Kamala Harris crisis dinner, Axios

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5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. It’s really too bad, because I like and respect Kamala, but you are probably right about this. The only way I could see this changing–and it’s possible–is if she really makes good use of the more experienced Biden’s mentorship while in the White House and gets better at handling the political attacks.

    There’s also a deeper underlying issue here. I was an Elizabeth Warren supporter in the primaries, and I watched her get viciously attacked (by Bernie supporters, among others.) I’m not sure I would like to see Elizabeth run in 2024 either. I’m not sure I would like to see any female candidate running, if we want a chance to win the White House. Female candidates for President seem to attract hatred and vitriol on the American political scene. It’s depressing for me as a woman, but it’s just reality.

    1. eurobrat,

      Kamala Harris seems like a kind, enjoyable person which is why I tried to separate the person from the politician in my post.

      My criticisms of her came from a mostly political angle, viewing her viability as a candidate in 2024 based off of her career as California AG, presidential candidate, and vice president.

      While the future holds so many unknowns, Harris will surely have a chance to fix course. On the point of Elizabeth Warren, I believe that she is genuinely more politically-talented than Kamala Harris. I think of her debate performance against Michael Bloomberg and her clear political message and stances.

      While I believe Harris has political shortcomings and a political past that she will have to explain to many voters, I think she can improve a bit in the next 3 years, although I’m not sure how much of a difference that would make to voters.

      It’s pretty hard to change what your mind thinks of someone, but we will see.

      Thanks, and nice hearing from you!
      Quentin

  2. Quentin, one of the challenges for Biden and Harris is they are moderate Democrats. So, they cause unrest on the far left and right. They do appeal to moderate Republicans and independents. Yet, his numbers will fall in both the far left and right.

    I have seen a concerted effort on the right to saddle wedge issues on the two of them. Immigration has been in need of repair for about fifteen years. After a bipartisan bill was passed in the Senate led by a “Gang of Eight,” it was never taken up in the GOP led house, as Speaker Boehner believed not passing and not solving a problem would be a winner politically. I wish I was making this up, but sadly it is true. This led to the Obama executive order on DACA. Plus, we should not forget the “Sh*thole country” day where the previous president reneged on a deal of $25 billion for his wall to make DACA law. Some strident Republicans got in his ear and said it would be a winner politically to not do this deal. Again, I wish I was making this up.

    Note Dems have not solved the immigration issue either, but for Republicans to point fingers is unfair. Now, poor Kamala is saddled with this intentionally crafted clusterf**k of an issue that cannot be solved without people willing to solve it. Keith

    1. Keith,

      Thanks for bringing up the history of immigration policy in Congress. It really helps in figuring out how the immigration got to this point. It’s fascinating and disheartening that immigration policy has been avoided as a political killer, and it is sad that the issues of such a controversial and politically-charged topic ended up on the shoulders of one person.

      Thanks!
      Quentin

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