DEMOCRAT strategists are said to be mightily alarmed by recent polls showing that Kamala Harris is the most unpopular US Vice-President six months into an administration since the 1970s, according to YouGov.
Her floundering numbers have put her ‘underwater,’ meaning that more Americans disapprove than approve of her performance.
The Los Angeles Times reported on July 27 that only 45 per cent of registered voters claimed a favourable opinion of Harris, with 48 per cent holding an unfavourable opinion, a net rating of minus three percentage points.
Younger voters aged 18-29 also had a largely ‘unfavourable’ view, with less than 36 per cent viewing her ‘favourably.’ The difference is partisan, with opinion split on party lines. Generally, Harris does better with women, African-American voters, and college graduates.
In The Los Angeles Times’s latest ‘averaged poll’, President Joe Biden’s favourable rating is 52 per cent and his unfavourable rating 45 per cent – a positive net of some seven percentage points. That puts his rating 10.2 percentage points higher than his Vice-President.
Kamala Devi Harris is a 56-year-old former attorney from California, the 49th Vice-President, and the first female, black and Indian American to serve as the nation’s second-in-command.
Routine nationwide polling of Harris began in late 2018, when she declared her intention to run for president. A review of 193 polls conducted since shows how she has become better known nationally and how opinions of her have evolved.
After joining the presidential race, Harris’s favourability declined throughout the summer and autumn of 2019. When she dropped out in December of that year, before the first vote in Iowa, she was not well regarded. Her public polling largely stopped.
In the spring of 2020, amid speculation about Harris joining the Democratic ticket, she returned to the public’s attention. Her star started to rise in August, when Biden chose her as his Vice-Presidential partner after publicly declaring that he was seeking a woman of colour.
On taking office, Harris was assigned to deal with the contentious matter of immigration and the management of the US’s southern borders. Her handling of the issue has been much criticised and her approval rating has dropped: Some consider she was handed a poison chalice.
Despite being a seasoned politician, Harris has often been clumsy when dealing with sensitive matters, and in a fraught interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, she took umbrage at a question about why she had not visited the border – responding, bizarrely, that she ‘hadn’t visited Europe either’.
Her comments about immigration have been, at best, inconsistent. As district attorney of San Francisco in 2008, Harris supported a city policy that required law enforcement to turn over undocumented juvenile immigrants to federal immigration authorities if they were arrested and suspected of committing a felony.
In her inaugural address as state attorney-general, she lamented that ‘organised violent criminal gangs continue to present an expanding threat across borders,’ but she later supported ‘sanctuary cities’ that refused to co-operate with federal immigration authorities.
She said then that ‘when local law enforcement officials are seen as de facto immigration agents, it erodes the trust between our peace officers and the communities we are sworn to serve.’ She even argued, despite her extensive legal background, that ‘an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal’.
When she was running for President, she claimed she disagreed with immigration policies. And in fact, as district attorney, her office did run a programme that trained illegal immigrants for jobs they could not legally hold.
Later, she promised: ‘I’m not going to vote for a wall under any circumstances.’ Later still, as Vice-President visiting Mexico and Guatemala, she told people from Central America ‘do not come’ to the US.
Holding the ‘Biden line’ she said: ‘We will discourage illegal migration, the United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border … if you come to our border, you will be turned back.’ Her warnings fell on deaf ears as migrants continue to flow across the borders. Hispanic voters turned away from her.
Harris is also facing growing internal criticism, with her own staff leaking stories about poor leadership and low team morale. Politico released details of interviews with 22 of her current and former aides and administration officials who describe ‘dysfunction in the VP’s ranks’.
One aide with direct knowledge of Harris and her leadership style, said: ‘People are thrown under the bus from the very top, there are short fuses … it’s an abusive environment’. Another declared: ‘It’s not a healthy environment and people often feel mistreated. It’s not a place where people feel supported, but a place where people feel treated like s***.’
The Democratic Party team have, out of necessity, mobilised to defend the Vice-President, with senior adviser Cedric Richmond telling Axios that ‘It’s a whisper campaign designed to sabotage her.’
Clearly, not all Democrats are rushing to her aid. Joe Cunningham, writing in Red State, speculates that ‘Biden loyalists, many of whom are those older, more moderate/slow-walking progressives, are still extremely upset with Harris over her attacks on Biden during the presidential primary debates … I do think that perhaps some of those on the Biden team who still hold a grudge aren’t giving her the full support she needs’.
Other party insiders are fearful that Harris might be another Hilary Clinton: A runner with all of the ‘politically correct’ credentials, a strong partisan following and much media hype, but who is, in reality, much less competent, or popular with the public than her coverage would suggest.
Harris, like Clinton, has certainly acquired an imperious manner and an unfortunate air of entitlement. She frequently misjudges her audience and deploys a nervous cackle when dissembling or avoiding questions. She hovers around President Biden with the compassion of a Nurse Ratched. A Washington Examiner columnist argued a few weeks ago that she is plain ‘bad at politics’ and essentially lacks the common touch.
Harris’s dearth of public favour is, however, consistent with research showing that she, like other female politicians, is disproportionately the target of personal abuse. Her supporters suggest that as a ‘powerful black woman’, she is being punished for breaching traditional stereotypes.
Why on Earth does any of this matter? Aren’t all politicians, regardless of their race, sex or political allegiance, self-serving, duplicitous, and often unsavoury? Well, it matters because if President Biden goes downhill quicker than expected, Harris will assume the mantle of President.
If, on the other hand, Biden survives to 2024, he will be 81 years old and may not be fit enough to be the Democrat nominee. That would leave Kamala Harris as the candidate likely to face Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis.
In the meantime, the White House hopes to shield Harris by promoting ‘positive engagement’ and deploying her only in ‘certain areas’ to campaign ahead of next year’s mid-term Congressional elections. It has announced that President Biden is sending her to Vietnam later this month; a move that has led to quips that he thinks the war is still on.