We Talked to Some Kamala-but-Not-Joe Voters. Here’s What They Said.

Bridgette Miro, 52, a retired state employee in Glendale, Ariz., is a Republican, but said she would vote for President Biden because Kamala Harris was on the ticket.Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

In our recent poll of voters in battleground states, we asked how people would vote if Kamala Harris were running for president. Though Donald J. Trump still led in this hypothetical matchup, Vice President Harris performed slightly better than President Biden.

She did particularly well among young and nonwhite voters — voters who were a key to Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory but who the poll suggests are less supportive of him this time.

The voters who backed her but not Mr. Biden — about 5 percent of swing-state voters — would have given Mr. Biden the lead in the Times/Siena polls if they had supported him.

We called back some of these Harris supporters to understand why they didn’t support Mr. Biden, and whether he could win them over.

They show the serious challenges Mr. 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 Mr. Biden. Though many said they’d probably vote for Mr. Trump, nearly all said that they weren’t excited about either option, and that Mr. 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.

A telephone call with a New York Times reporter is not the same as a conversation with friends or family. It’s not the same as a campaign advertisement, either. But it was an opportunity for a group of voters, some of them relatively disengaged, to think about the candidates, issues and campaigns.

Here’s how the Harris supporters broke down:

Harris superfans

If Ms. Harris were running for president, Bridgette Miro, 52, a retired state employee in Glendale, Ariz., who is Black, would vote for her “one hundred thousand percent.”

She likes the work Ms. 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, Ms. Miro said she would vote for Mr. Trump this election. She’s a Republican who said “I don’t have any feeling at all” about the job Mr. Biden has done as president. But by the end, she had switched her support to Mr. Biden, after recalling her negative views about Mr. 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 Ms. 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 Mr. Trump over Mr. 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 Mr. 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 and Ms. Harris supporter in Farrell, Pa., considers himself a Democrat. But he plans to vote for Mr. Trump because “he’s helped out countless Black people.”Credit…Justin Merriman for The New York Times

Antonio Maxon, 25, a garbage collector in Farrell, Pa., still plans to vote for Mr. Trump. But he likes Ms. 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, Ms. Harris’s racial identity matters not only for representation, but 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 Mr. 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, Ga. “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.”

Not Joe Biden

“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 Ms. Harris. She said she would probably vote for Mr. Trump: “Personally, I think we were doing a lot better when he was in the presidency, price-wise, money-wise, income-wise.”

Yet in some ways, Ms. Carrillo-Hinojosa is the kind of voter Mr. Biden hopes he can win once people start focusing on the race. Mr. Trump has offended her as a woman, she said, and she likes some of what Mr. Biden has done, including his support for Israel.

Most of all, she said, she strongly supports abortion rights — and did not realize that Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 Mr. Biden’s handling of foreign affairs, and he recalls policies under Mr. 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.”

Mr. Maxon, who is Black, said Mr. 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

Ms. 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 Mr. Biden’s presidency. She leaned toward Mr. 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 says 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.”

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