New poll goes deep on Kamala Harris’ liabilities and strengths as a potential president

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With voter concern about President Joe Biden’s age haunting his chances of reelection, a new poll shows his next in line, Vice President Kamala Harris, facing serious doubts about her ability to win the presidency herself, or to perform the job well were she to inherit it.

The POLITICO/Morning consult poll reveals that only a third of voters think it’s likely Harris would win an election were she to become the Democratic nominee, and just three of five Democrats believe she would prevail. A quarter of independents think she would win.

That skepticism extends to her potential future role as the head of her party. Forty-two percent of voters described her as a strong leader, including three-quarters of Democrats but only a third of independents.

The poll shows that Harris shares the same poor ratings as Biden. Both are well underwater, Biden at 43 percent favorable and 54 unfavorable, Harris at 42 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable.

Harris’ efforts to reboot after a rocky start appear to have paid some dividends with important Democratic constituencies, in ways that might move the needle in a close election. She outperformed Biden among Black voters, a shift from when the two competed for the Democratic nomination four years ago. And among Democrats, she has extended her lead over potential rivals in a hypothetical 2028 matchup.

Harris also polled well on some key issues, such as abortion, while lagging on others, such as immigration.

Overall, the findings suggest that Harris is unlikely to quell anxiety among voters about what would happen if Biden became unable to serve. Attitudes about Harris could play a more pronounced role in the campaign than with a typical vice president as voters assess handing another four-year term to the 81-year-old president.

“She’s done an admirable job on reproductive health and issues important to the Black community and related to youth. But at the same time, she’s falling into the same spot that many vice presidents fall into, which is that she doesn’t have a very public role outside of her lane,” said RL Miller, a climate activist and outgoing member of the Democratic National Committee from California. “People don’t associate her with issues like foreign policy, which is so important these days. She isn’t being credited with the larger international and domestic work.”

Miller describes herself as a “longtime fan of Kamala Harris,” and said the vice president would be her first choice “if God forbid something were to happen to Biden.” But, Miller added, “I am afraid Democrats have internalized the Hillary Clinton lesson: That a woman can’t win. And I think it’s sad.”

Harris faces pessimism about her future role in the party from a bloc of Democrats and a far larger share of independents. The poll found that a majority of voters don’t view Harris as a strong leader (48 percent to 42 percent). Nor do they see her as trustworthy (46 percent to 43 percent).

Harris scored in the high 70s with Democrats on both questions, but is in the mid-30s with independents. Voters overall were split when asked whether she is prepared for the job as well as if she cares about people like them.

She performed relatively well on issues like health care, gender inequality and LGBTQ+ rights, but is well below a majority in terms of how much voters trust her to handle immigration (40 percent), relations with China (37 percent) and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (35 percent).

Harris is working to overcome her uneven arrival in the White House, a stretch marked by embarrassing slip-ups, a politically toxic portfolio that included immigration and internal staff upheaval that contributed to the notion she lacked command. And despite spending considerable time on the road, voters have consistently questioned why they don’t see and hear more from her.

“We talk to Americans and they can’t really give voice to all the accomplishments of the president and the vice president, even when they’ve been big and super important,” said Gretchen Barton, a Democratic strategist who has conducted research on voters across swing states. “That’s a real problem because people are ultimately looking for someone who can get things done and they are waiting to hear what’s been delivered.”

The POLITICO | Morning Consult poll shows Biden and Trump tied at 45 percent apiece (a subsequent Morning Consult tracking poll has Biden up on Trump by 1 percentage point. Democrats have started to deploy tens of millions of dollars in TV ads to tout the administration’s accomplishments.

Although Harris’ appeal is tied up with Biden’s, some negative perceptions of her that appear across the poll crystallized in the early months of their tenure, according to a half-dozen Democratic advisers who reviewed portions of the survey. Several said Harris has a rare chance — given the number of eyeballs on her — in the coming months to start ameliorating the concerns.

“The vice president has the opportunity to reset any impressions about her and rebrand herself in a debate, at the convention and in the stretch run of the campaign,” said Fernand Amandi, a strategist and pollster in Florida who worked for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. “Those will be the opportunities where America, as a nation, will be able to take a second look at her and see if they see a future president, or, someone who is just another potential presidential candidate.”

After the rough start, Harris steadied her footing over the last year by becoming the White House’s top emissary on protecting abortion rights, bolstering her foreign policy credentials by standing in for Biden at major summits and emerging as a formidable campaign fundraiser.

“If you look at the trajectory of her vice presidency, it’s really been positive both in terms of the significant international exposure that she’s had and the role she’s played as a spokesperson on issues of that are central to Democratic voters: reproductive rights, inclusion, upward mobility and climate change,” said Joel K. Goldstein, a historian of the vice presidency who has closely monitored Harris.

“The reality is, she's been doing quite a lot and it stacks up very well against her predecessors, but in this climate, it’s hard for a vice president to get the attention and get the notice,” Goldstein said. “If the administration’s numbers climb, I think her numbers are going to climb.”

Harris’ favorability has been largely stagnant since Morning Consult began regularly tracking the vice president in March 2023. Still, there are signs her efforts are resonating, at least with some pivotal voters.

Harris’ position with key communities — including 67 percent favorability among Black voters versus 23 unfavorability — represents a shift for the vice president, who had trailed Biden with Black voters since they competed in the 2020 primary and after he picked her to run alongside him, noted Cameron Easley, the lead U.S. politics analyst at Morning Consult. Biden’s numbers with Black voters were 63 percent to 31 percent.

Harris’ favorability among Hispanic voters also was slightly better than the president’s.

“She’s been good at energizing active bases that Democrats have really needed — young Black voters, Black women. These are constituencies that Democrats can never take for granted,” said Trip Yang, a Democratic strategist based in New York.

And the voters’ faith in Harris on other issues that are important to Democrats registered in higher numbers than her overall favorability: A majority said they trusted her to handle abortion. Her scores on voting rights were 49 percent, protecting Medicare and Social Security, 47 percent, and taking on climate change, 46 percent.

Yang pointed to Harris’ own background as well as her outreach to Asian Americans. “The way the staff is positioning her, it’s been smart,” he added.

While Harris focuses on the 2024 campaign, her place on the ticket remains a source of contention: Thirty-six percent of voters think Biden should replace Harris with another Democrat, while 39 percent want him to stick with Harris (as he plans to do). Another quarter didn’t know, or had no opinion.

A sizable share of Democrats and independents — 23 percent and 34 percent, respectively — say Harris should be removed as vice president.

Other questions that focus on Harris’ future underscore how divided voters are about her prospects — with Democrats strongly backing her in a 2028 primary but still not sold on her ability to defeat a Republican.

Harris, at 41 percent among Democratic voters, was way out ahead in a hypothetical 2028 matchup between several other figures in the party: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (15 percent), California Gov. Gavin Newsom (14 percent), Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (5 percent), Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly (4 percent) and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (2 percent). Seventeen percent of Democrats didn’t know or had no opinion.

Among all voters, Harris led with 21 percent, followed by Buttigieg and Newsom (10 percent), Whitmer and Kelly (4 percent) and Shapiro (3 percent).

Morning Consult asked similar questions in December 2021 and again in September 2022 about a potential 2024 Democratic primary without Biden. In both those surveys, Harris led the field, but her share of support from Democratic voters was far smaller.

Voters were more pessimistic about Harris’ electoral prospects in a general election.

Fewer than 60 percent of Democrats say it’s likely she would win an election for president if she were the party’s nominee, with nearly a third of her own party’s voters viewing her winning as unlikely.

Thirty-four percent of voters think she would win the White House compared with 57 percent who have doubts about the vice president’s electability. A quarter of independents think she would win versus 62 percent who believe she would lose.

And just over a third of independents think she would make a good president.

The poll surveyed 3,996 registered voters from May 28-29 and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

“The fact that you’re vice president doesn't mean you are going to be the nominee and it doesn’t mean that you are going to be elected, but it’s still the best presidential springboard,” Goldstein said of Harris and the 2028 election. “Right now, her future is very much tied to Biden’s.”