Despite poor polling numbers, Kamala Harris viewed as key for Democrats in 2024
Vice President Harris stopped in Duval County. Image via AP.

kamala harris
'A challenge of being a first is that the scrutiny on you is usually much higher and the expectations for you are unset, there’s no precedent,'

Vice President Kamala Harris’ poll numbers have stagnated at a lower level than many of her predecessors’ ratings, a daunting problem for a running mate as the 2024 Presidential campaign gets underway.

Professors and political experts interviewed by States Newsroom say there are several reasons why Harris’ favorability numbers sagged after she took office. She is tied to President Joe Biden and he’s not especially popular at the moment. She’s the first woman and person of color to hold the role. Assigned intractable national issues like illegal immigration, she has been heavily criticized by Republicans for not producing solutions. And like any Vice President, she can’t overshadow the President.

Experts interviewed also contend that nationwide favorability polling isn’t an especially important predictor of who voters will choose when they head to the polls in 16 months. They did argue that Harris, however she may be perceived, will play a more prominent role in the campaign than other Vice Presidents — due in part to Biden’s age. Now 80, he would be 86 at the end of a second term.

“As in 2008, when there were concerns about John McCain’s health, people will look at the vice presidential candidate and see whether or not they’re ready for prime time,” said Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. “And the problem with Sarah Palin in 2008 was that she didn’t look like she was ready for prime time. People are going to ask the same questions about Vice President Harris.”

Jonathan K. Hanson, a political science professor and statistics lecturer at the University of Michigan, also said Biden’s age might lead voters to consider Harris more critically than they have other running mates in recent history.

“If we’re really looking at Biden’s strengths and weaknesses, his age has got to be one of the biggest areas of vulnerability. We’re not used to having the President quite this old,” Hanson said.

A drop in the polls

FiveThirtyEight’s polling average showed Harris with a 52% disapproval rating and a 39% approval rating in late June.

Those numbers are much lower than in April 2021, three months after Harris was sworn in as Vice President, when her average approval rating was 55%. Her disapproval rating at the time was just under 32%.

Both of those numbers began moving in the opposite directions in June 2021, before leveling off about a year later.

Gillespie said there are numerous factors contributing to Harris’ low poll numbers, including that one of the key roles for a Vice President is to stay in the background.

“Politically speaking, if she were to be taking a lead role on lots of key issues, there is the chance that she would end up overshadowing President Biden and that could cause friction within their own relationship,” Gillespie said. “But then in particular, given President Biden’s age, it would actually help to fuel the narrative that he’s really not fit for office.”

Another reason Harris’ poll numbers are lower than many of her predecessors, Gillespie said, is because she is the first woman of color to become a Vice President and because Biden’s poll numbers are underwater.

Harris’ poll numbers are lower than those of the four Vice Presidents who came before her, according to an analysis of prior polling by the Los Angeles Times.

Biden began his presidency in January 2021 with a 54.7% average approval rating, but that quickly began trending downward, according to FiveThirtyEight.

By September 2021, Biden’s approval rating had dipped below his disapproval rating. He currently holds a 54.3% disapproval rating and a 40.5% average approval rating, according to FiveThirtyEight.

The Biden-Harris campaign did not offer on-the-record comments for this article.

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said there are multiple factors affecting Harris’ poll numbers and the public’s perception of her role. She agreed with the other experts that one is Harris’ standing as the first woman and first person of color to be a Vice President.

“A challenge of being a first is that the scrutiny on you is usually much higher and the expectations for you are unset, there’s no precedent,” Dittmar said.

Tricky assignments

Harris, who gets a fraction of the news coverage of the President or congressional leaders, has been handed some of the more politically polarizing assignments during the first few years of the Biden administration, from addressing the main drivers of undocumented migration to being a leading voice on reproductive rights following the fall of Roe v. Wade.

During the first year of the Biden administration, Harris was tasked with trying to address the long-running and complex issues within a few Central American countries that lead thousands of people to migrate to the United States each year.

Harris’ first international trip as Vice President in June 2021 was to Guatemala before she traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border later that month, following weeks of criticism from Republicans.

Those GOP lawmakers have repeatedly rebuked Harris for what they call a “crisis” at the Southern border and laid the blame for undocumented immigration at her feet.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer, Harris became one of the administration’s leading voices on reproductive rights and abortion access.

But abortion access is an area where Democrats feel they can motivate their base and the swing voters that often decide presidential contests. And while Biden has spoken out in support of reproductive rights consistently since the Supreme Court’s decision last summer, in late June he distanced himself somewhat.

“I happen to be a practicing Catholic. I’m not big on abortion,” Biden said. “But guess what? Roe v. Wade got it right.”

Harris has spoken about dozens of other issues as well, including in recent days on the cost of child care, access to transportation for people with disabilities, artificial intelligence and renewable energy.

Some voters, Gillespie said, might have had unrealistic expectations about what Harris could accomplish as Vice President, leading them to become frustrated with her job performance.

“I think it’s an important question to look at how much the public actually knows about what her issue portfolio is,” Gillespie said. “And then there is the other issue of whether or not Vice President Harris was potentially set up to fail.”

“There is the perception that by announcing that she would be handling these issues, that that was just inviting criticism when she was inevitably not going to be able to solve those problems in a short period of time, because these are entrenched long-term issues,” Gillespie added.

Bully pulpit and more 

Harris told NPR in an interview released this month that she views her role as Vice President as similar to the role of Americans who “love” the country and believe in its promises, but who also “understand we have some work yet to do to fully achieve that promise.”

“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,” Harris said during the NPR interview.

Harris has traveled throughout the country on behalf of the administration this year, including to purple states like Arizona where she spoke with Native American communities, Pennsylvania for an event with the Service Employees International Union, Virginia to speak about gun violence and Georgia to discuss climate change.

Harris has also attended several Democratic fundraising events.

And in mid-July she matched the record for the most tie-breaking votes a Vice President has cast in the Senate.

“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,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat said. “She’s carried out her duties with supreme excellence.”

Dittmar from the Center for American Women and Politics said it’s clear that many voters are evaluating Harris “in a different way than the White men who’ve come before her.”

Public perception or favorability of Harris could also be affected by how she’s been deployed by the White House, Dittmar said.

“She tends to do more of her work behind the scenes and in things that are just covered less,” Dittmar said. “So when I see she has low favorables, it leads me to believe that in the absence of information of what she is actually doing, people are going to rely on other information put out there about her.”

Even then, Dittmar said, polls won’t give an indication of whether Biden will win re-election with Harris as his running mate.

“I’m always like a broken record about this, I don’t think that favorability tells us much,” Dittmar said.

Polling has also been broadly criticized for inaccurate numbers heading into the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Elections.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research wrote in a report that the “2020 polls featured polling error of an unusual magnitude: It was the highest in 40 years for the national popular vote and the highest in at least 20 years for state-level estimates of the vote in presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial contests.”

“Among polls conducted in the final two weeks, the average error on the margin in either direction was 4.5 points for national popular vote polls and 5.1 points for state-level presidential polls,” the report said.

A President above the fray

Kathryn Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said that Vice Presidents often take a leading role criticizing opponents during a re-election campaign because Presidents tend to follow the “Rose Garden” strategy.

That includes the President appearing above the fray, she said, while trying to project as a natural for a second term in office.

In addition to that, Vice Presidents, she said, often act like lightning rods, drawing volatile issues away from the President.

But Tenpas said national polling numbers aren’t particularly important because the campaign will likely focus on specific areas of the country that could decide Presidential Elections.

“I would contend that her national polling numbers are not super relevant when it comes to campaigning because they probably want to focus on certain counties within those swing states,” Tenpas said.

The University of Michigan’s Hanson said Biden’s somewhat low approval rating could affect Harris.

But, he added, because Harris is the first woman and first person of color to hold the role of Vice President, that creates other dynamics.

Media attention on previous Vice Presidents, all of whom have been White men, didn’t focus on their race or ethnic background in the way it’s factored into Harris’ public image as a politician, he said.

Those Vice Presidents, he said, would talk about policy or other aspects of their background.

“But of course, when the nominee is a woman, or when a woman of color, then those features enter very prominently into the news coverage, and it kind of activates, you know, prejudices that voters have,” Hanson said. “So to the extent that there was prejudice against a Black woman or a woman of color, or, in this case, a person of mixed ethnic background, those prejudices can manifest themselves, depending on who is reading that story.”

Moving Harris to the forefront and trying to reassure voters that she could step into the role of President, should anything happen to Biden, might be a crucial benchmark for the 2024 Biden-Harris campaign, he said.

“I think it’s fair to say Republicans so far have had the upper hand as being pretty successful as trading in an image of incompetence, or that voters just don’t have very warm feelings or very positive feelings towards Harris,” Hanson said.

“So Democrats, of course, will want to flip that narrative and I think there is a possibility … that her relative youth and intelligence will be selling points and assets that will reassure voters that if something were to happen to Biden that she’s ready,” Hanson added. “But that’s going to have to be the result of an intentional campaign to create that perception.”


Jennifer Shutt reporting. Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Florida Phoenix

Florida Phoenix is a news and opinion outlet focused on government and political news coverage within the state of Florida.


  • Impeach Biden

    July 15, 2023 at 7:30 am

    Kamala Harris is as dumb as Joe Biden. She can’t blame dementia on her stupidity though.

    • Tom

      July 15, 2023 at 7:34 am

      Dumb as you might think they are, they’re still in charge unlike the former guy who is desperately trying to keep himself out of jail. We obviously need better choices on both sides.
      What has she done specifically to earn your ire?

      • Impeach Biden

        July 15, 2023 at 8:20 am

        Well shall we start with the Southern Border. She was / is in charge right? How would you rate her job performance on that?

        • Dont Say FLA

          July 15, 2023 at 10:37 am

          She has done exactly as much as Trump did, which is nothing. The reason for that is our ruling class does not want the “border problem” to be solved, as the border “problem” is their solution to their actual problem, lazy white people, Maggas, refuse to work.

          • Antonio

            July 15, 2023 at 1:18 pm

            Trump can make it very easy to complain about him, but to say he didn’t do anything is demonstrably false. At the very least, he get the economy roaring, lowered our taxes, and he was the first President in my lifetime that didn’t drag us into a new overseas conflict. You are delusional and more than that, you are insulting. There are lazy people in all walks of life. Once again, you are spewing your “Republicans bad/Democrats good” garbage. I am still waiting to see a good argument for voting Democrat that doesn’t include some form of “Republicans suck, so vote for us”.

          • Impeach Biden

            July 15, 2023 at 1:20 pm

            I’m sensing a bit of racism there with the “lazy white people” comment. Compare the number of illegals that crossed during the Trump administration to the amount of the complete free for all going on down now at what was once our Southern Border. Kamala is incompetent. She is good at only one thing. That’s what got her to where she is now.

          • Dont Say FLA

            July 15, 2023 at 9:36 pm

            Antonio, my comment about Harris and Trump both having done nothing was in response IBS’ question about what Harris has done with the Southern Border. Neither of them did anything about the border “problem,” same as every previous and future administration. The border “problem” is not a problem for people who matter. For the people who matter, the border “problem” is the solution to a different problem they have, which is lazy Maggas feel all entitled and refuse to work for the money they’re worth, which ain’t much.

          • Dont Say FLA

            July 15, 2023 at 9:43 pm

            IBS, feel free to sense racism if you want, but I didn’t put the “white” in “white nationalists.” They did. I just call them out for being lazy, useless whiners. Cry if you want. The truth hurts sometimes.

          • My Take

            July 16, 2023 at 12:40 am

            the border “problem” is their solution to their actual problem, lazy white people, Maggas, refuse to work.
            Parallels with slavery.

  • My Take

    July 15, 2023 at 2:53 pm

    The fact thst she is so disliked by the obvious dregs who so dislike her gives me greater confidence in her.

  • Ocean Joe

    July 15, 2023 at 4:51 pm

    Antonio, were you born in 2017? What war did Obama drag us into, and what state was our economy in at the end of Bush 2 vs. Obama with 8 years of growth vs. 3 years with Trump who presided over our national shut down, empty shelves at the grocery stores? The tax cut goosed the economy but the party ended with a country unprepared to handle an epidemic. Supply was shut off, demand pushed prices through the roof.

    One reason to vote for Dems over Reps is that historically GDP grows more, unemployment drops more, and yes the stock market does better under Democrats.

    Another reason would be social policy: safety net vs. trickle down. If somebody is really Christian, hard to understand trying to balance the budget by cutting SNAP benefits.

    Foreign policy is a draw, the latest GOPers seem to embrace isolationism which is bad for American business and consumers, and Trump had plans to withdraw American forces from around the globe along with his capitulation to the Russians (Helsinki).
    Some say Trump planned to withdraw from NATO. Biden has enlarged it.

    Climate change is the issue for me. GOP ignores it or worse calls it a hoax. If you have children or grandchildren the choice is not even close.

    Abortion, not a big issue for me, but the decision should be between the mother, father, and doctor, not the government.

    Guns. Why does anyone need an assault weapon? Why did the Republican congress let the ban sunset? And why is anybody surprised with our almost daily mass shootings?

    As for Kamala, she was a horrible pick, she’s a drag on the ticket, Biden should name her ambassador to a small, unimportant country as far away as possible.

  • My Take

    July 15, 2023 at 6:01 pm

    Kamala’s failures pale to insignificance compared to the GOP’s failures.
    If nothing else, she is a patriot.

    • Impeach Biden

      July 15, 2023 at 9:54 pm

      Wow. I mean just wow.

      • My Take

        July 15, 2023 at 10:14 pm

        MAGA “reasoning” is brain-stem “thinking.”

  • Antonio

    July 17, 2023 at 11:40 pm

    Insinuating that I was born yesterday because we disagree is not the best way to change my mind, but you kept it light and came with some points, so I will indulge you:

    1. Obama dragged us into the Syrian conflict.
    2. Bush and Obama both sucked, their foreign policy was practically the same. Obama’s economic growth (much as the current one) was a snapback after hitting a bottom, and most of his job growth (just like Biden’s) was partly due to people having two jobs, as well as a flood of low skilled positions. Trump was able to bring back some manufacturing jobs that had gone abroad, and he cut a lot of unnecessary regulation, which kick started our economy. As far as Covid shutdowns, Trump was ready to open up by Easter 2020 and he let the states handle it (rightfully so). It was Democrats states that chose to keep themselves locked down for longer and dragged the entire economy down with it. We did the “two weeks to slow the spread”, and then started going back to normal. We were having concerts by May/June 2020, people were back at restaurants, and our economy picked up.
    3. My friend, I do not see what you see in regards to GDP, unemployment, and definitely not in the stock market, at least not in the impact to the private investor. And I’m talking historically, not the last three years of craziness, which is anything but normal.
    4. SNAP benefits are not meant for people that are able to work. You cannot sit there with a straight face and tell me that SNAP isn’t being abused by a bunch of lazy people. I get that some people need help, but not everyone putting their hand out needs it, so I don’t see anything wrong with reducing the budget to SNAP and focusing whats left for those who really need it. Do you prefer we just keep paying out to people taking advantage?
    5. NATO and foreign policy: I don’t not like being a part of NATO, myself, so I am all for separating from it. We can still be allies with people, but being in such a pact is making us part of some sort of global conglomerate, and I have zero interest in anything that will reduce this country’s sovereignty. You may think a global pact like that is a good idea, but my two decades of traveling the world on business tells me that is not a good idea.
    6. Climate Change. I don’t deny it. But what is going on today in regards to it is way overblown. Nothing will happen as fast as they say. Why? Because they have been saying this for decades with little to no change. According to the experts, we should have been underwater now for over 10 years. Now, do I support green energy? Yes. Do I think it should replace nuclear and fossil fuels? Hell no. We cannot depend purely on green energy, that is insane. The wind doesn’t always blow, nor is it always sunny. We must use all available options.
    7. Abortion is a tricky one. I am not for telling people what to do, but that said, we are talking about a life, so I think there should be a cutoff for abortions. For the longest time, the country accepted that it was ok to do so up to around 25 weeks. The issue is people see life beginning at different points, which is a bit strange when any cellular organism is considered to be life. I don’t agree with Republicans going hard against abortion, but I recognize that it is a snapback to modern day Democrats wanting abortions up until birth. Remember, Republicans have never been for abortions, they have always maintained the same position. It is the Democrats that have moved hard in the other direction and then paint Republicans as extreme for having the same position they’ve always had. Because, of course…”Republicans bad”.
    8. Going to disagree with you wholeheartedly on this one. It is our right and I don’t believe that the government should be the only ones with guns. I don’t believe in punishing millions of law abiding citizens just because some pieces of crap commit heinous crimes. In this state, there are around 8-10 million legal gun owners. It is not the wild west here.
    9. Kamala. I agree wholeheartedly and I am glad to see a Democrat voter that calls it out, as most will never admit that one of their own sucks.

    Which is part of the issue what I am not interested in the modern Democrat party. They call Republicans cultists, yet Democrats seem to march in lock step with everything Democrat while Republicans are generally in-arguing, which I actually consider a good thing as we are all individual humans with individual concerns. And whenever I see a decent, moderate Democrat candidate, they are either kicked to the curb for not towing the party line 100% of the time (i.e. former representative Stephanie Murphy), or they are starved of oxygen unless they come around and start acting like the rest (i.e. Annette Tadeo’s Governor run, which started out pretty good, and then she descended to the same inane and immature attacks that Nikky Fried was doing). They have become the party of identity politics (referring to me as latinx whenever they reach out for donations), censorship, warmongering (which I find really strange considering that the Left used to be anti-war), crime forgiveness to a dangerous point, and just generally all up in people’s business.

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