Newsom Stumbles With Californians in One Poll But Holds Steady in Another

One job approval poll ties a drop in California Governor Gavin Newsom’s popularity to frustrations with his handling of the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a face mask as he urges people to wear them to fight the spread of the coronavirus during a news conference in Rancho Cordova, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool, File)

(CN) — Two different polls out of California Tuesday paint different pictures of Californian’s approval of Governor Gavin Newsom and his management of the coronavirus pandemic. 

One poll found more residents disapproved the Newsom than approved, while the other found his approval among adults and likely voters held steady if not increased incrementally since December last year. 

A Berkeley IGS Poll released Tuesday shows that 48% of Californians disapprove of the job Newsom is doing — 31% expressing strong disapproval — while only 46% approve. The poll marks a remarkable shift from a little less than a year ago, when strong majorities across the state approved of Newsom’s job handling the nascent pandemic and other parts of the job. 

“These results should provide a strong warning to the governor,” said IGS co-director Eric Schickler. “If the recall election does go forward, the state’s response to the pandemic needs to be seen as more successful for the governor than it is now for him to be confident of the election outcome.” 

A separate poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that a majority of respondents (54%) approved of Newsom’s job performance overall, with about 53% of respondents saying they approved of the governor’s response to the pandemic. 

“A majority approve of the job that Gavin Newsom is doing as governor, while opinions about him remain deeply divided between Democratic and Republican voters,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

While the poll numbers show an uptick in approval from January that is well within the margin of error, his approval has fallen 10 percentage points since May, when his popularity peaked according to the PPIC.

The Berkeley IGS poll revealed a more dramatic popularity drop directly attributable to growing frustrations with the pandemic, with less than a third (31%) of those polled saying they approve of his management of the pandemic. The number is down dramatically from September when he enjoyed 49% job approval. 

And he can’t win for losing: His decision to put several counties back under stay-at-home orders during December and January rankled the business community and residents alike, who chafed at the restrictions. However, his recent announcement to relax the orders and go back to the state’s tiered system of managing the pandemic angered those on the other side of the coin who argue the science did not merit a relaxation of orders. 

“He’s had a hard time articulating the reasons for the recent stay-at-home orders and then articulating the reasons for relaxing those orders,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “His decisions didn’t seem tethered to the data.”

According to the PPIC poll, the response to Newsom’s job performance hews rather dramatically along partisan lines. 

Democrats approve of the job performance to the tune of 71%. A paltry 16% of Republicans approve of Newsom’s management of the pandemic, while 46% of independents approve. 

That number of independents has to be a worrisome sign for Newsom along with the results of the Berkeley IGS poll that demonstrates a growing disenchantment with how California’s state government is managing stay-at-home orders and the logistics of giving approximately 40 million residents the opportunity to get a coronavirus vaccine.

Newsom did not help himself by attending an indoor dinner party at the elite opulent Napa Valley restaurant French Laundry in December, even as he was telling Californians to stop the spread. 

Small business owners have expressed frustration with ever-changing regulations while some more favored businesses appear to be granted exceptions. 

Angela Marsden, the owner of the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill in the Los Angeles County city of Sherman Oaks posted a viral video in early December showing her closed-up outdoor dining area next to an expansive outdoor dining area for an active film shoot.

“How can you tell me that this is dangerous, but right next to me — that’s safe?” Marsden said in the Facebook video. “Mayor Garcetti and Gavin Newsom is responsible for every single person that doesn’t have unemployment, that doesn’t have a job, and all the businesses that are going under.”

She has since sued the state over its outdoor dining ban, which was rescinded Jan. 25.

The frustration is giving momentum to an effort to recall Newsom, although Tuesday’s Berkeley IGS poll did show a plurality of Californians think a recall would be a bad thing for the state (49%). Only 36% said such an effort would be a good thing. 

Meanwhile, former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Monday he would challenge Newsom for the governor’s seat in 2022. The moderate Republican will formally announce his campaign in Los Angeles on Tuesday, flanked by parents upset by school closures in their communities. 

Pitney said there is a chance the effort to recall Newsom could make the ballot but sees a tougher road for Republicans if they can achieve that. 

“It is very possible for a certain kind of Republican to win in an otherwise blue state,” Pitney said regarding the GOP’s chances in California. “But the question becomes will they flock behind the guy who has a chance of winning, or flock behind the guy who tickles their ideological fancy.”

Faulconer may seem like the type of Republican capable of garnering votes from disaffected Democrats and centrists, but the question becomes whether the party base that thrilled at every word from former President Donald Trump is interested in the type of moderate Republican who could win. 

The other headwind facing the GOP is that the public’s displeasure with Newsom appears to hang on the coronavirus, which has touched the lives of and angered so many. 

In the PPIC poll, 43% of adults and 47% of likely voters ranked the coronavirus as the most important issue facing the governor and the legislature. Jobs and the economy paled in comparison with only 13% of respondents and 12% of likely voters ranking it as the most important issue. 

“The problem with the vaccine and the stay-at-home orders is that it literally hits them where they live,” Pitney said. It’s not like typical issues that people can avoid if they choose. 

The upside for Newsom and his supporters, Pitney said, is that if he turns things around and does a modestly capable job of rolling out the vaccine for those who want to take it, his popularity issues will vanish accordingly.

“If people are going out to the movies by summertime, it will take a lot of steam out of this for sure,” Pitney said. 

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