Straying from Biden, some say they’d vote for Harris
By Claire Cain Miller and Nate Cohn
In our recent poll of voters in battleground states, we asked how people would vote if Kamala Harris were running for president. Although Donald Trump still led in this hypothetical matchup, Harris performed slightly better than President Joe Biden.
She did particularly well among young and nonwhite voters — voters who were key to Biden’s 2020 victory but who the poll suggests are less supportive of him this time.
The voters who backed her but not Biden — about 5% of swing-state voters — would have given Biden the lead in the New York Times/Siena polls if they had supported him.
We called back some of these Harris supporters to understand why they didn’t support Biden and whether he could win them over.
They show the serious challenges Biden faces. Some said he was too old, or they didn’t think he’d done much as president. Black voters in particular said they didn’t believe he was doing enough to help Black Americans.
They also point to the opportunities for Biden. Although many said they’d probably vote for Trump, nearly all said that they weren’t excited about either option and that Trump had personally offended them. For some, Democratic messaging on issues important to them, like abortion and the economy, hadn’t reached them.
In a telling indication of how unsettled voters remain with a year to go, many of them expressed different opinions during the follow-up interviews than they did during the survey. In response to neutral questions, some who had said they were unsure became more sure of their support for either candidate by the end of the interview, and others switched their support after recalling their impressions of both candidates and talking more about their priority issues.
Here’s how the Harris supporters broke down:
If Harris were running for president, Bridgette Miro, 52, a retired state employee in Glendale, Arizona, who is Black, would vote for her “100,000%.”
She likes the work Harris did in California, where she was attorney general and a U.S. senator before she became vice president. She likes “the way she handles herself.” She likes that “her skin color is like my skin color.”
In the poll and at the beginning of the interview, Miro said she would vote for Trump this election. She’s a Republican who said “I don’t have any feeling at all” about the job Biden has done as president. But by the end, she had switched her support to Biden, after recalling her negative views about Trump, who she said was racist and didn’t do enough to prevent police violence against Black people.
“All of my frustration comes from the killing of Black individuals,” she said. “If we can have just someone in office who can control the police force just a little bit, that gives us a little bit of hope.”
And then there was Harris: “If she’s on the ticket, I’m going to vote for her. It’s Kamala versus everybody.”
‘She’s a Black Woman’
“I just think she has a lot more to offer than the standard straight old white dude,” said a 40-year-old artist in Georgia, who declined to share her name because she feared blowback, given the country’s polarization. “I like the idea of a female lawyer.”
A lifelong Democrat, she said in the poll that she would vote for Trump over Biden, whom she called “too old and a bit out of touch” and “a bit of a doofus.” Yet she believes the problems in the country had more to do with gerrymandered congressional districts than with Biden. By the end of the interview, she said she “will likely vote for him again; I’m just not happy about it.”
Antonio Maxon, 25, a garbage collector in Farrell, Pennsylvania, still plans to vote for Trump. But he likes Harris for a simple reason: “She’s a Black woman.” He said he lost faith in the political system after Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. It’s important to him, he said, “just to see a female, a woman in power, being that I was raised mostly by females.” He added, “My father was not there. My mother raised me. My grandmother raised me.”
Crime and police violence
For some Black voters, Harris’ racial identity matters not only for representation but also because they say it gives her an understanding of the issues they face. It highlights a factor that may be driving some Black people from the Democratic Party. For years, it was seen as advancing the interests of Black voters, but these voters said Biden hadn’t done enough, while a Black president may have.
“I feel like she would probably do more for us, because I feel like there’s not enough being done for Black people,” said Sonji Dunbar, 32, a program specialist for the Boys and Girls Club in Columbus, Georgia. “I stay in a very urban area. There’s crime. So I feel like she could influence more programs to at least get that crime rate down, address police brutality.”
“Honestly, it was more of a choice of it just not being Joe Biden,” said Clara Carrillo-Hinojosa, a 21-year-old financial analyst in Las Vegas, of her support for Harris. She said she would probably vote for Trump: “Personally, I think we were doing a lot better when he was in the presidency, pricewise, moneywise, incomewise.”
Most of all, she said, she strongly supports abortion rights — and did not realize that Biden does, too. She said that because states’ abortion bans had gone into effect during his presidency, she assumed it was because of him. Ultimately, despite her misgivings about the economy, support for abortion rights would probably be what decided her vote, she said.
Maxon, the 25-year-old garbage collector in Pennsylvania, considers himself a Democrat, though this election would be his first time voting. The Israel-Hamas war has made him doubt Biden’s handling of foreign affairs, and he recalls policies under Trump that helped him.
“My biggest thing is not seeing America fall in shambles,” he said. “With this war, I think Biden is way too lenient — with Hamas, Iran, Iraq, the whole nine yards. What I like about Trump is, he was keeping everybody at bay and not wanting to mess with America.”
Maxon, who is Black, said Trump had made racist remarks, yet he plans to vote for him. “He’s helped out countless Black people, more than Biden did by a landslide,” he said. Specifically, he said, it was through pandemic unemployment assistance and other relief funding at the start of the pandemic (the Biden administration also distributed relief funding).
No good option
Dunbar, the 32-year-old from Georgia, is a Democrat but did not have positive things to say about either candidate and is unsure whom to vote for.
“I don’t know too much or hear too much about what he’s doing,” she said of Biden’s presidency. She leaned toward Trump in the poll, but in the interview, she said he seemed to carry too much baggage — comments he’s made about women, generalizations about racial or ethnic groups, the indictments against him.
She said it’s important to vote, even when on the fence. Democrats have one thing going for them, she said: support for the issue most important to her, women’s rights.
“Abortion comes into play with that,” she said. “I still like women to have their own choice with what to do with their bodies. And the way things have gone, it’s an agenda on women, period. Not just Black women, but women in general.”