Kamala Harris in the Swing States

August 25, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Arizona | California | Democratic Party | Florida | Joe Biden | Kamala Harris | Michigan | North Carolina | Pennsylvannia | Swing States | US Presidential Election 2020 | Wisconsin

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Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic Vice Presidential nomination on Wednesday 19 July, becoming the first black woman and first Asian American to make the presidential ticket for a major party. As attention turns towards her record and experience, Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a poll in six swing states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) to provide a comprehensive picture of Harris’ approval and enthusiasm ratings, her potential replacement of Biden, and her policies and qualifications.

Approval and Enthusiasm

In the immediate aftermath of Harris’ selection, her critics struggled to settle on a uniform line of attack, with some portraying her as a “radical socialist” and others as a “pawn of Wall Street”. While the former label has been deployed by Republicans, notable segments on the left of her own party had expressed their preference for more progressive candidates such as Elizabeth Warren or Karen Bass. Nevertheless, Biden’s selection of Harris has managed to withstand these attacks, proving popular across all six swing-states states: the choice is approved by either pluralities or majorities in all six states, ranging from 43% in Wisconsin to 51% in Florida and North Carolina. Nationally, Harris’ selection is approved by 49%.

Notably, the vast majority (from 61% in Arizona to 66% in Michigan and North Carolina) of those likely to vote for Biden in November are more enthusiastic about voting for him as a result of Harris’ nomination.

Replacing Biden?

Harris made no secret of her desire to become the nation’s first female President during the race for the Democratic nomination last year. Since her nomination as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, speculation has emerged over whether Harris may be the real presidential candidate, rather than Biden, especially given the pair’s high-profile clashes in the Democratic primary debates last year over Biden’s past positions on bussing to end segregation in public schools. Narrow pluralities (up to 41% in North Carolina) in five of the six swing-states consider that Harris is the real Presidential candidate. In Michigan, a slight plurality (39%) disagree that Harris is the real candidate. Significantly, in our national poll, 41% of all respondents consider Harris the real candidate. In all states, those who say they will vote for Trump are more likely to view Harris as the real candidate, compared to respondents who say they will vote for Biden.

Although Biden has formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, a small (but not insignificant) minority of swing state voters believe Harris will replace him prior to the election. Nationally, over a quarter (27%) of all respondents consider that Harris will replace Biden before November. Those intending to vote for Trump believe this replacement is more likely.

A plurality of the swing-state public (from 36% in Arizona and Michigan to 45% in North Carolina) believe it is likely that, if Biden is elected, Harris would replace him at some point during his first term as President, which would be due to run until 2024. Our research has consistently recorded doubts over the physical and mental health of Biden, who would become America’s oldest ever President if successful in November. These concerns are unlikely to be assuaged any time soon: in our national polling across multiple weeks, 41% have stated they believe Biden would be replaced by Harris at some point in his first term. A majority of Trump voters in all polled states believe such a replacement would be likely.

Although many believe it is likely that Harris will replace Biden at some point, a shift prior to November would not be a popular outcome. Only minorities (from 25% in Wisconsin to 30% in Pennsylvania) would support Harris replacing Biden as the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, in line with the 26% recorded nationally. Party lines were striking here, as pluralities and majorities of Biden voters would support Harris replacing Biden as the presidential candidate, even though our research has consistently found that Biden is outperforming Trump.

Familiarity and Qualifications

Harris has faced intense public attention since her nomination. Current awareness of Kamala Harris is high across all states: an overwhelming majority (from 83% in Arizona to 90% Pennsylvania) have heard of the Vice Presidential nominee. Nationally, 83% of respondents have heard of Harris, a slight rise since our poll from last week, conducted the day after her nomination.  

Interestingly, our poll found that either pluralities and majorities (from 47% in Arizona to 51% in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina) believe the primary reason she was selected is because she is a woman of color, rather than her career and achievements. On a national scale, a lower proportion of respondents (42%) hold this view.

Harris’ nomination as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate has been accompanied by rigorous scrutiny of her stances on various domestic issues, in particular her views on fracking. In her presidential campaign last year, Harris was outspokenly opposed to fracking, declaring that she would ban the practice if she became President. At this stage, pluralities (from 49% in Florida) and majorities (to 63% in Wisconsin) are not familiar at all with her position on fracking.

The Trump campaign regards Harris’ stance on fracking as a potential weakness, claiming tens of thousands of jobs are at risk and that it indicates Biden is against “our kind of energy”. Nevertheless, we found that pluralities would approve of Harris’ proposed ban on fracking, suggesting Trump’s strategy may be out of line with public opinion.

Harris has been criticized in some Democrat circles for her time as a prosecutor and Attorney General in California. Again, however, pluralities in Wisconsin (47%), Arizona (38%), and North Carolina (37%) are not familiar at all with her prosecutorial career, yet pluralities in Michigan (37%), Pennsylvania (36%), and Florida (35%) are only somewhat familiar.

Harris’ prosecutorial career has been both praised and criticised from across the political spectrum, including within the Democratic Party’s support base. “Harris is a cop” became the slogan used by those on the left who lambasted her repeated refusals to investigate shootings involving officers, her promotion of anti-truancy laws that disproportionately affected families of colour, and her focus on punishing so-called “quality of life” crimes such as graffiti and loitering. On the other hand, many centrists and moderates have been reassured that her record and experience prove that her approach to crime and law enforcement will be firm and effective.

Our results showed that Harris’ record in law enforcement is viewed as an asset rather than a liability. Across the swing states, between 42-50% of respondents consider that her experience as California’s Attorney General is an asset. It may be the case that progressive Democrats retain hope that Harris could be swayed towards the left during the campaign, in a similar way that Biden has done on certain issues.

The most positive and encouraging attitudes towards Harris came from North Carolina and Florida, where respondents were slightly more likely to approve of her nomination, think her replacement of Biden is likely, and view her policies and career favourably. On the other hand, Wisconsin and Arizona stand out for their relatively more negative appraisals, yet the results remain largely encouraging for the Democrats. Michigan and Pennsylvania rarely strayed from the average results across all questions. Overall, our findings across all states provide encouraging signs for Harris and the Democratic Party. Her appointment is viewed favourably, as are her policies on fracking and her career in law enforcement. Moreover, enthusiasm among Democratic voters for the campaign has increased.

Questions may be asked as to whether the Party is missing an opportunity by not promoting Harris as the main presidential candidate, as a significant proportion of those intending to vote for Biden in November would support him being replaced by his running mate. Ultimately, it appears that the Biden-Harris ticket, which aims to attract both moderate and progressive support, is broadly succeeding in securing public backing in the key swing states and on a national level.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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