Why is Kamala Harris so unpopular in the polls?


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(Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images, Getty Images)
(Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images, Getty Images) ((Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images, Getty Images))

What’s happening

Vice President Kamala Harris’s net favorability has hit a record low. According to an NBC poll conducted in June, Harris has a net rating of -17, marking the lowest rating for any vice president in history of the poll.

Approximately 1,000 respondents participated in the poll and found that 49% of registered voters have a negative view of Harris, while 32% have a positive outlook on the VP.

“Polls are a snapshot of the time, they certainly do not define the time,” Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, told Yahoo News. “And no poll can measure the effectiveness of Vice President Harris and how consequential she is not just to the Democratic Party, and to this administration, but to the country.”

In 2021, Harris made history as the first Black and first female of Indian descent to become vice president. Jonathan Hanson, political scientist and lecturer at the University of Michigan, says Harris is stepping into new territory.

“So we would need to consider the additional possibility that her numbers are being weighed down, due to either gender-related bias or race/ethnicity-related [bias],” Hanson told Yahoo News. “That's something that's kind of hard to disentangle from the broader picture. But there is research out there that suggests that, for some people, her gender and race are positive, and for other people, it might work in more of a negative direction.”

By contrast, in October of 2019, then-Vice President Mike Pence had a 38% negative favorability and 34% positive, according to NBC polls, and in December 2010, then-Vice President Joe Biden had a 33% negative view and 34% positive view.

“I do think it speaks to the higher level of scrutiny that [Harris has] faced throughout her time as both a candidate and now an officeholder,” Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, told Yahoo News.

Experts say Harris’s tenure has been filled with difficult assignments. “She was asked to focus on immigration as an issue, which is, of course, a very politically sensitive and difficult issue to work on. So one could make the argument that she wasn't given a very favorable opportunity to really carve out a set of positive, highly visible public accomplishments,” Hanson said.

In a recent NPR interview, Harris said, “I think about my role as vice president of the United States and what that means both in terms of the bully pulpit that I have, and the responsibility that comes with that, to hopefully inform folks of things I might be aware of, but also to elevate public discourse and hopefully cut through the misinformation.”

Why there’s debate

In April, President Biden announced his plans to run for a second presidential term, which would make him the oldest president, drawing renewed attention to his second-in-command.

“We don't normally consider so heavily the possibility that the president may not last the entire term,” Hanson said. “It does raise the possibility that people are looking more closely at Harris than they otherwise would and asking the question of whether they think she's ready to be president.”

As the 2024 election approaches, Harris has been a target for Republicans. “A vote for President Biden, it’s actually a vote for President Harris. We are running against Kamala Harris. Make no bones about it,” former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, told “Fox and Friends in June.

Dittmar says there is a concerted Republican effort to throw the spotlight on Harris in order to reduce her poll numbers. “If you demonize Kamala Harris all the time, you know, in messaging and social media and all of that, her favorability will go down overall,” Dittmar said.

But Democrats say polls do not correlate with votes. “The fact of the matter is that polls matter to those on K Street,” Seawright said, referring to the busy section of Washington, D.C., known as a hub for lobbyists. “They certainly don't matter to those on our streets. And elections are won on our streets, not K Street.”


Harris isn’t perfect, but she’s been judged harshly

“Vice President Harris is not perfect — and she has sometimes been her own worst enemy, struggling to keep good staff and appearing stiff and scripted at public appearances. But it’s hard to square the outsized negative attention she receives with any rational critique, and impossible not to see parallels to the only other woman ever to come so close to our nation’s highest office — [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton. She, too, endured years of disinformation and gendered attacks that affected the outcome of the 2016 election.” — Lauren Leader, Opinion Contributor, the Hill.

Harris’s poll numbers could impact the 2024 election

“If President Joe Biden is serious about seeking a second term, he must fix the problem of his vice president, Kamala Harris. Though Biden's poll numbers are currently not much better than Harris's, latest polling by the Los Angeles Times finds as of this month ‘41% of registered voters had a favorable opinion of Harris and 53% had an unfavorable opinion — a net rating of -12 percentage points.’ One wonders what those 41% see as Harris' accomplishments, because there have been none, as far as I can tell.” — Cal Thomas, Fox News.

One poll does not represent the full picture

“If you ask the young folks on college campuses across the country that she visited during the midterm election to educate us on the issues and what this administration has done, I guarantee you they will have a different response. If you [ask] her sorority sisters that make up a large voting bloc in this country, they will have a different response. If you ask HBCU [historically Black colleges and universities] graduates that make up a large voting bloc … they will have a different response.” — Antjuan Seawright, Democratic strategist, to Yahoo News.

The vice president is doing her job

“When it’s mattered most, Vice President Harris has provided the decisive vote on some of the most historic bills of modern times, from the American Rescue Plan to the Inflation Reduction Act, to so many federal judges who now preside and provide balance on the federal bench. She’s carried out her duties with supreme excellence.” — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Harris is under a microscope

"I think that there is extra special focus on Vice-President Harris right now, because of the uncertainty around Biden, and whether he's going to run again. I don't remember another time when we really focused so much on the vice-president and their polling numbers." — Clifford Young, vice president of Public Affairs & Public Opinion Research at Ipsos, BBC.