SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) --- Facing just the second gubernatorial recall election in California history, a new statewide poll released Tuesday placed Governor Gavin Newsom in solid position to keep his job as just 40% said they would vote for the upcoming recall.
The latest results from the Public Policy Institute of California are largely unchanged from March, suggesting momentum for the recall has waned as the state continues to re-emerge from the pandemic. Along with surviving the recall attempt the poll found Newsom’s approval ratings remain stable at 54%, up two percentage points since January.
PPIC President Mark Baldassare said the lukewarm support for the recall is driven by the state’s hyper-partisan makeup, as Newsom remains popular with Democratic voters. As of now, the replacement candidates have done little to convince voters they can do a better job guiding the nation’s most populous state out of a pandemic and recession.
“Supporters of a recall have their work cut out for them,” Baldassare wrote Tuesday in an accompanying poll review.
The survey comes as Newsom ramps up campaign efforts and taps into the massive donor base that helped get him elected three years ago.
In a matter of months, Newsom has scored a $3 million campaign donation from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and six-digit hauls from labor unions and agribusiness titans Stewart and Lynda Resnick. He is also holding routine press conferences across the state featuring glowing reviews from local Democratic officials.
A date has not been scheduled for the recall, but statewide voters will be tasked with answering two questions: “Should Newsom be removed from office?” and “If yes, who should take his place?”
Campaign finance laws treat the first recall question as a ballot measure, while the second is considered a typical race for elected office. The result means that unlike his competitors, Newsom won’t be held back by campaign contribution limits and will have more ammo to fend off GOP candidates like former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner.
Recall proponents are banking on voters fed up with more than a year of shutdowns and persistently high unemployment to flood polling sites this fall and throw out a Democratic governor as they did to Gray Davis in 2003.
But Tuesday’s poll shows the electorate may not be as eager --- or angry --- as the last time around.
When asked what would happen if Newsom were recalled, just 29% responded things would get better, 28% said it would make no difference and 34% said conditions would get worse with a new governor.
The PPIC asked voters the same question months before the 2003 recall and found 47% believed things would get better if Davis was replaced. In the end, 55% voted to remove Davis and 49% chose Arnold Schwarzenegger as the next governor.
Padding Newsom’s apparent advantage is a spate of timely but fortuitous economic and pandemic news.
Newsom claims the state is awash in cash and has proposed a mammoth $267 billion state budget built on a presumed $76 billion surplus. The flush spending plan is stocked with support for middle-class and low-income families and includes billions for unpaid rent and $600 stimulus checks for most taxpayers.
Meanwhile California added more jobs last month than any other state and has nearly halved its pandemic unemployment rate of 16%.
On the pandemic front, the state’s testing positivity rate is at an all-time low and California continues to lead in terms of total vaccine doses administered. Newsom has set June 15 as the state’s grand reopening and says he will allow counties to drop mask mandates and business restrictions.
The improving trends figure to boost Newsom’s popularity as PPIC respondents named jobs, the economy and Covid-19 as the top issues facing the state.
Of the 1,705 Californians polled, 81% said they favored more money to help struggling families pay rent and utilities, 70% supported another round of state stimulus checks and 86% responded the worst of the pandemic is behind the country.
Wesley Hussey, associate professor of government at California State University, Sacramento, says the political conditions are far from ripe for a recall bid, unlike in 2003 when the state was dealing with an energy crisis and still recovering from the dot-com bubble burst. Nor is there a “superstar” candidate stealing the spotlight like Schwarzenegger did nearly 20 years ago.
“If you’re trying to recall a governor and the economy is doing well, the state has a huge budget surplus and it’s much more Democratic than it was, you’re already several mounds deep in a political hole,” Hussey said.
In an otherwise disappointing poll, Hussey says the recall campaign can take solace in the fact that support for the recall increased to 47% among the state’s large bloc of independent voters, up from 42% from March. With registered Republicans outnumbered by Democrats in the state by a nearly 2-1 margin, he added it will be key for recall backers to continue swaying over independent and third party voters.
Newsom is clearly riding a wave of momentum, but Baldassare says while voters may currently not want to “alter the status quo,” things could still turn sour this summer on the first-term governor.
“Timing is everything in politics, and it is important to keep in mind that our survey asks Californians how they would vote if the recall election were held today,” Baldassare concluded. “The 2021 special election is most likely to occur in late fall. The public’s views on Covid and the economy could sour by then or be preempted by discontent over new crises such as wildfires or electricity blackouts.”
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