Joe Biden’s victory may depend on Kamala Harris’s poll numbers

Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris take the stage before the start of the second night of the second U.S. 2020 presidential Democratic candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

These are not numbers campaign dreams are made of: Some 70% of the country, including 51% of Democrats, say the incumbent president shouldn’t run for a second term – and a major reason, according to almost half, is age. President Joe Biden is 80 and already the oldest U.S. president ever.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is only 58, was supposed to neutralize those concerns – but so far she hasn’t. If she can improve her own approval ratings, she may boost the president’s poll numbers as well.

The Los Angeles Times tracks national opinion polls of Harris, a former California senator and the first woman, Black and South Asian American to be vice president. Fifty-three percent of registered voters view her negatively. On average, her net favorability is negative – and five points lower than Biden’s. It’s also lower than her predecessors at this point in their tenures: Mike Pence, Biden, Dick Cheney and Al Gore.

Part of that divergence reflects how polarized the country has become in the past three decades. Biden’s and Harris’s numbers also reflect a mix of ageism, sexism, racism and misogyny. And as my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Francis Wilkinson has pointed out, Biden hasn’t exactly set Harris up for success. As the administration’s point person on border policy, she has borne much of the brunt of the administration’s failure to control one of the most challenging political issues.

Add it all up, and it’s hard not to conclude that voters just have higher expectations for women and non-White politicians, says Nadia Brown, chair of the women’s and gender studies program at Georgetown University, who is part of a group of scholars studying Harris’s tenure.

And yet. Without denying those biases are real, is it also possible that some of the criticisms of Harris have merit? What are voters seeing when they say that she hasn’t grown into the job or doesn’t seem authentic?

I asked Brown. Voters are tapping into something, she says, even if they can’t quite articulate it. In her research, Black women say there’s something about Harris that “falls flat.” It’s difficult for ordinary people to see themselves in her, Brown says. Harris’s own life story is both quintessentially American and highly unusual – even more so when juxtaposed with Joe from Scranton.

The symbolism of Harris is “huge,” she says. “Black women are really proud.” But they don’t see her bringing about substantive policy change.

Biden’s team knows this – and knows it has to change. Republicans will run against the vice president (“next in line for the presidency,” as the saying goes) as hard as they’ll run against Biden.

One way to boost Harris would be through her policy portfolio, to put her in charge of an important issue beyond immigration or abortion. She’d need to own it, strategists tell me, and she’d need to show some progress. What that issue is – and whether success would significantly change perceptions of her – is still up for debate.

There’s no debate that, even with the benefits of incumbency, Biden and team need to gin up some enthusiasm. In a survey published last week, 41% of Democrats said they’d definitely vote for Biden in a general election and 40% said they probably would. Pollsters use a technical term to describe this kind of voter enthusiasm: Meh.

While Harris is featured in snippets throughout Biden’s video announcing his reelection campaign, once again his case is built on defeating Donald Trump. The first images on screen are of the smoke-filled scene from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, followed by “Trump 2020” flags waving outside the Capitol.

As strong as Trump’s grip is on the Republican Party, the indicted ex-president still needs to win his party’s nomination – and get through at least one trial, a few criminal investigations and multiple lawsuits. He’s not a sure thing, which is terrifying for Democrats who view him as Biden’s most beatable opponent. And with nine months until the first primary contest, Trump’s younger competitors have a lot of time.

Recent polls make it depressingly clear that the nation is united – against a Biden-Trump rematch. That’s the main problem for the Biden-Harris ticket, and one way for the campaign to address it is to make a stronger case for the vice president.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Julianna Goldman. PHOTO: Linkedin @Julianna-Goldman

Julianna Goldman is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist who was formerly a Washington-based correspondent for CBS News and White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Television.




(This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Parikh Worldwide Media)



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