Hanson on Kamala Harris's struggling poll numbers

July 25, 2023

A series of articles have highlighted Vice President Kamala Harris’s low polling numbers, “a daunting problem for a running mate as the 2024 presidential campaign gets under way.” FiveThirtyEight’s polling average showed Harris with a 52% disapproval rating and a 39% approval rating in late June.

Ford School professor Jonathan Hanson has commented that President 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 told States News Service.

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.”

In another article on Yahoo! News, Hanson said 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]. 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.”

Regarding Biden’s age, he said, “We don't normally consider so heavily the possibility that the president may not last the entire term. 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.”

Despite poor polling numbers, Kamala Harris viewed as key for Democrats in 2024, States News Service, July 14, 2023

Why is Kamala Harris so unpopular in the polls?, Yahoo! News, July 21, 2023