Vice President Harris is seen as a strong leader – though Republicans see her as too powerful

February 26, 2021, 1:45 PM UTC

Vice President Kamala Harris holds an historic place in American political life – the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to serve as Vice President. She also casts the deciding vote in the evenly divided United States Senate.

But Americans’ images of Harris in the latest Economist/YouGov poll don’t simply reflect those attributes. She is a role model for women, but she is also a lightning rod for GOP criticism. She has political power, but many of her opponents say she has too much of it.

Harris is seen as a strong leader, though not necessarily a likeable one. Slightly more adults describe Harris as a strong leader (59%) than say that about President Joe Biden (55%). Among Republicans, a quarter (26%) describe Harris as a strong leader. Though that is far from a majority, it is 10-points higher than the share of Republicans who see President Biden as a strong leader (16%). 

Two-thirds of women call Harris a strong leader (65%), 13-points higher than the percentage of men who view her as one (52%).  

But that perception of strength brings concern from Harris’ political opponents. By two to one (46% to 18%), Republicans are more likely to believe that it will be Harris who will make most of the decisions in the Biden-Harris Administration. The public overall sees things differently. By nearly two to one, they see Biden as in charge (45% to 26%).  

Believing that a president of the opposite party isn’t really in charge has happened before. In a 2001 CNN Poll, conducted just before President George W. Bush was inaugurated, Democrats believed that President George W. Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, would be making more of the Administration’s important decisions. But the margin then was only seven points (45% to 38%), much smaller than the 28-point gap here.  

In addition, 59% of Republicans believe Harris today will have “too much power” when it comes to decision-making. Seven in 10 Democrats (72%) believe she has the right amount of power. 

Kamala Harris
 

Americans put Harris to the ideological left of President Biden. One-quarter (26%) call Biden “very liberal,” while one-third (33%) call Harris that. The gap is even larger among Republicans: 53% say Biden is very liberal, while 68% describe Harris that way.  

Harris is also more personally disliked by Republicans. In response to a question asking, “Regardless of whether you agree with him, do you like or dislike Joe Biden as a person?” a majority (55%) of Republicans say they dislike Biden (and 45% of Republicans dislike him “a lot”). But even more dislike Harris. About seven in 10  Republicans (69%) dislike her personally, and more than half, 54%, dislike her “a lot”). 

More Americans believe President Biden is honest and trustworthy (45%) than say he is not (37%). The public divides closely when it comes to Harris: 39% say she is honest and trustworthy, while 38% say she is not. 

Biden, like other recent presidents, polarizes partisans. One year ago, 91% of Republicans approved of how then-President Trump was handling his job. Today, 91% of Democrats approve of how Biden is handling the Presidency. Biden fares a little better with Republicans than Trump did with Democrats a year ago, with 15% of Republicans approving of Biden’s performance today. Last year, at this time, just 7% of Democrats approved of how President Trump handled his job. 

Related: Explore YouGov's political tracker on Kamala Harris’ favorability 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between February 19 - 22, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample 

Image: Getty