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Exclusive: Kamala Harris leads Elizabeth Warren and Susan Rice in new VP poll

She is Democratic voters’ top choice for Biden’s running mate, according to a poll from SurveyUSA and FairVote.

Sen. Kamala Harris is Democratic and independent voters’ top choice to be Biden’s running mate in a new poll.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Sen. Kamala Harris is Democratic voters’ top choice for Joe Biden’s vice president, according to a new poll provided in advance to Vox.

The survey, which was fielded by SurveyUSA and sponsored by FairVote, polled 1,296 Democratic and independent voters July 30-31 on seven prospective candidates. Included in the poll were Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Rep. Val Demings and Rep. Karen Bass.

The survey contained both a standard poll and a ranked-choice poll, intended to find the candidate with a majority of voters’ support. (The sponsor of the survey, FairVote, is a nonpartisan electoral reform group, which advocates in favor of a ranked-choice system.)

When asked to select their pick for Democrats’ vice presidential nomination in a standard poll, 31.9 percent of all respondents chose Harris, 26.8 percent chose Warren and 16.7 percent chose Rice. (The survey had a 3.7 to 4.1-point margin of error.)

When the poll was broken out by party affiliation, Harris was the top choice for Democrats, leading Warren 36 to 26 percent. Warren, meanwhile, led among independents, garnering 28 percent support to Harris’s 23 percent. (These figures omitted voters who were undecided about the vice president pick.)

In the ranked-choice poll, voters were asked to rank several candidates in order of preference. Then, when their votes were tallied, if no candidate accrued more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate who had the fewest first-choice votes was removed. Those votes then went to each voter’s next-ranked choice. This process was repeated until one candidate secured a majority of the vote.

When the final preferences of both Democratic and independent voters were counted in the ranked-choice survey, Harris emerged with 54.8 percent support, while Warren had 45.2 percent. (It’s worth noting that margin of error is trickier to calculate for ranked-choice polling, so there is more statistical uncertainty around this outcome.)

The ranked-choice poll, a process aimed at showing which candidates have broader bases of support, indicated that Harris and Warren have wider support. Both senators likely saw a boost from name recognition, since the two are far more well-known compared to the other candidates, following their respective presidential runs.

Still, the survey offers a glimpse of who voters support — and suggests that Harris, who has fielded critiques of her prosecutorial background, is a popular choice. Biden is expected to announce his running mate later this month, and reports indicate he’s narrowed the list to a smaller pool that includes Harris, Rice, and Bass among the leading contenders. He’s also faced growing pressure to pick a Black woman for vice president, amid a nationwide movement to combat racism and police violence, and a push from many Democrats for a more representative ticket.

“Ranked choice voting polls add greater depth and voice to people’s preferences,” says FairVote executive vice president Khalid Pitts. “We can see which candidates have broad appeal outside of the first choices, which candidates are most divisive, and which candidates’ supporters are least likely to select a second choice. Standard polls miss these results.”

Walking through the results

Ranked-choice voting, a reform that has gained more support in recent elections, is aimed at ensuring that a broad spectrum of voter voices are considered. By factoring in voters’ second, third, and fourth choices, for example, votes for candidates who don’t end up doing well in a crowded field aren’t entirely “wasted.”

In this case, ranked-choice voting is more hypothetical, since former Vice President Joe Biden will be choosing the nominee that he sees most in line with his candidacy and the message he’d like to send, and voters won’t have a direct say. Previously, Biden has said he’s looking for a running mate who can govern from “day one” and who is “simpatico” with his approach to the office.

The ranked-choice poll nevertheless reveals which vice presidential candidates have more expansive voter support because it shows who people would prefer if their favored option was eliminated.

For this survey, this is how the ranked-choice results were calculated: Harris started off with 31.9 percent of voters picking her as their first choice, while Warren began with 26.8 percent and Rice, with 16.7 percent. Abrams and Duckworth were roughly tied with 8.9 percent and 8.7 percent support, respectively, while Demings had 3.9 percent and Bass had 3.3 percent.

Sen. Kamala Harris was the candidate most respondents picked as their top choice in the poll.

After Bass, Demings, Duckworth, and Abrams’s support was redistributed, the polling left Harris with 40.1 percent, Warren with 37 percent and Rice with 22.9 percent.

Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, as well as former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, were the top three choices in a ranked-choice poll.

Finally, when Rice’s votes were redistributed, Harris saw a bigger percentage bump, with 54.8 percent of the vote to Warren’s 45.2 percent.

Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren were the top choices for Biden’s running mate in both a standard and ranked-choice poll.

Historically, the vice president choice has had little electoral impact: As Vox’s Ella Nilsen has written, the decision may only affect the final result if the running mate who’s chosen is particularly polarizing.

There are factors that make this cycle unique, however. Biden’s age — he’d be the oldest person ever elected president — and questions about whether he’ll pursue a second term have put more focus on the vice president pick.

Ultimately, Harris has the most support of Democratic voters in both the standard and ranked-choice poll, an indication that voters in the survey see her as a consensus pick for the role.

Clarification, August 4: This story has been updated to clarify the survey’s margin of error.

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