The abortion debate gives Kamala Harris some time. But voters are still not sold

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about reproductive freedom at the El Rio Neighborhood Center in Tucson, Arizona, on April 12, 2024.  The highest court in Arizona ruled on April 9, 2024 that a 160-year-old, near-total ban on abortion is enforceable, pushing the issue to the top of the agenda in a key swing state in the US presidential election.  (Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

The abortion debate gives Kamala Harris some time. But voters are still not sold

Election 2024, Homepage News, Abortion, Kamala Harris

Noa Bierman

April 16, 2024

When a group of crossover voters were polled during a focus group about Vice President Kamala Harris, their assessments were brutal:

If she helps Biden, you won’t see it. She rubs me the wrong way. She was chosen because she is a demographic. The great things she had, she failed.

The comments, justified or not, pose a problem for President Biden and for Harris, as evidenced by interviews with voters here in Arizona, a key swing state where Harris spoke on Friday. More than three years into the first term of the oldest president in history, according to polls, his understudy has failed to win over a majority of voters or convince them that she is willing to intervene if Biden falls.

Swing voters don’t like her, said Gunner Ramer, political director of a group called Republican Voters Against Trump, which allowed The Times to view videos from three focus groups, including the crossover group with people who voted for former President Trump in 2016. and Biden in 2020.

It wasn’t just former Trump voters

who were negative about Harris

. In a focus group of Black voters disappointed with Biden, no one raised their hands in support of Harris, with one participant calling her the bad news bear. A focus group of California Democrats, while liking Harris, was pushed to discuss her, saying she needed more influence and exposure.

Many of Harris’ allies and supporters say the statements were influenced by racism and sexism, pointing out that other vice presidents stayed in the background with less scrutiny and saw their popularity depend on the top of the ticket. Some people in focus groups criticized her clothing or compared her to Hillary Clinton in comments that seemed to confirm these concerns.

But her low popularity could pose a political problem that her predecessors have not faced, given the focus on Trump and Biden’s ages, 77 and 81 respectively. More than half of voters, 54%, said she is not qualified to serve as president in a March USA Today/Suffolk poll, compared to 38% who said she is.

If there was a health event for either nominee, the vice president is front and center when it comes to people who might be on the fence, people who dislike both candidates, said David Paleologos, who led

the

a USA Today/Suffolk poll

that asked voters their opinion of Harris

. And there are many whose decision may depend on comfort level with the vice presidential choice.

Harris has heard the criticism since she entered the White House in 2021 and achieved a historic triumph. While she rarely responds directly, she has stepped up her appearances with core Democratic groups, often maintaining a more robust campaign and travel schedule than Biden. Many allies believe her role as the administration’s leading voice on abortion rights will give her and the Democratic ticket a boost on an issue that has propelled the party to unexpected success in the 2022 midterm elections.

She spoke in Tucson on Friday, three days after the state Supreme Court ruled that an 1864 ban on abortion could be enforced in the coming weeks. She presented Democrats’ case against Trump, who has taken credit for pushing the Supreme Court against abortion rights and said last week that each state should decide the issue.

“Just like he did in Arizona, he basically wants to take America back to the 19th century,” Harris said.

Several voters said in interviews in Phoenix on Monday that they did not know Harris was present

their state

just a few days ago, underscoring the challenge of gaining attention as vice president in an age of information overload.

“When she comes for us, she doesn’t let on,” said Tracey Sayles, a 52-year-old black Democrat.

Sayles voted for Democrats Hillary Clinton and Biden in previous elections, but now says her vote in the upcoming election is 50-50, despite calling Trump “vulgar” because Biden “looks like he’s sick.” She would have driven to meet Harris in Tucson if she had known she was in the state, she said, but she has a feeling the vice president is in hiding.

Another voter who dislikes both Trump and Biden, Jeff Garland, said he hasn’t seen much of Harris either.

“But from what I’ve seen of her, she doesn’t look like someone I want running my country,” said Garland, a 57-year-old retired military member who said he voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020 voted. and planned to serve in 2024.

out.

Kellie Hoverson, a 31-year-old Democrat, said she was “not excited about Biden” but was more optimistic about Harris, despite concerns from younger friends and family members about her history as a prosecutor in California.

“I just want a female president,” she said. “I just want to see it in my life.”

Research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which works to advance women’s equality in politics, shows that women face an imagination barrier when running for the highest executive positions because voters have a harder time recognizing them in the job than white men, who have historically held the posts.

Men can see it and women need to show it, says Amanda Hunter, the foundation’s executive director.

Polls show Harris, who dropped out early in the 2020 presidential election, has made gains among the Democratic base. Three-quarters of Democrats had a favorable opinion of her in the USA Today/Suffolk poll, which found just over a quarter of independents view her favorably.

Brian Fallon, who serves as her campaign communications director, said she has proven to be a highly effective messenger on issues from reproductive freedom to gun violence prevention, and said she is uniquely positioned to help critical groups in the Biden Harris coalition, including both progressives. and independents.”

The fact that many voters say they remain unfamiliar with Harris is something her allies and advisers see as an opening because it leaves room for persuasion as more voters focus on the race in early fall.

This isn’t a matter of one or two speeches, this is four or five months of just hard work, said Cornell Belcher, one of former President Obama’s pollsters.

Belcher argued that the small portion of persuadable voters who give Harris her lowest marks will not decide the race; instead, the question will be whether Democrats can rebuild their coalition of young voters, women and people of color that won Obama his reelection in 2012 and formed the backbone of Biden’s 2020 victory.

I’m more concerned about these younger voters turning away as they did in 2016, he said, crediting Harris for her work reaching them during college campus tours and other outreach.

But there are also questions about inconsistencies in opinion polls about the age of voters

D

18–29, given the small sample size of subgroups. A poll taken by Emerson College in early April showed that among those younger voters Harris had quite high positivity rates, almost 49%, while another poll by The Economist taken a few days later showed only 34% of that age group rated her positively.

It is unclear whether Trump, who is not the target, is

Vice President Harris

will often pick up his attacks on Harris, who is unsurprisingly toxic among Republican base voters. If they cheated in the election, it could be Kamala, Trump said at a March rally in North Carolina, echoing his false claims of widespread election fraud.

He returned to Biden pretty quickly: We have enough problems with this guy.

A senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Danielle Alvarez, called Harris irrelevant. The political reality is that Biden is underwater and he is a failed president, she said. She’s probably certainly equal to him in those failures, but he’s the target.

Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster, agrees that running mates generally don’t impact votes, but points to Sarah Palin in 2008 as an exception, largely because polls showed dual concerns about John’s health McCain and Palin’s fitness for office. He argues that Harris, whom he characterizes as a walking blunder, presents a similar problem.

There may be plenty of time, but if you don’t have the ability to become more vocal and look like you’re ready to become the leader of the free world, it will be difficult to achieve that, Ayres said.

Harris is counting on that time. She is

in fact

fairly busy with public events, but vice presidents do not naturally attract much attention compared to the president.

As the campaign progresses and Trump chooses a running mate, they will likely see her more often, and possibly in a different light.

For people who have doubts about her, the question for them will ultimately be: what does she look like in contrast to X? said Joel Goldstein, a historian who studies the vice presidency. Now she is compared to an ideal figure.

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