Statewide Poll Finds Lukewarm Support for Newsom Recall

Just 40% of likely California voters say they will vote to replace Gavin Newsom in a potential recall election this fall, while the Democratic governor continues to garner strong approval numbers in the latest PPIC poll.  

California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers his State of the State address from Dodger Stadium, March 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — With a special election on the verge of qualifying for the ballot this fall, 56% of California voters would reject the recall attempt of Governor Gavin Newsom according to a new statewide poll released late Tuesday.

Along with a 53% approval rating for the first term Democratic governor, only 40% of likely voters in a new Public Policy Institute of California survey said they would remove Newsom if the recall was held today. The survey results also show a punching partisan divide with nearly 80% of Republicans in favor of replacing Newsom compared with just 15% of Democrats. 

The survey comes as both Newsom and his critics have begun ramping up fundraising and campaigning efforts in recent weeks for the presumed recall election.

Earlier this month, recall sponsors submitted over two million signatures, well clear of the amount needed to prompt the state’s first gubernatorial recall election since 2003. Elections officials have until late April to finish counting and verifying signatures and if the final tally clears the required total of nearly 1.5 million, an election will come 60-80 days after.

Recall backers have celebrated their signature haul by painting Newsom as a failing governor who has strongarmed the state’s pandemic response with countless executive orders and costly business shutdowns.

Newsom and state Democrats are casting the recall organizers as racist conspiracy theorists desperate to revive a Republican Party that hasn’t won a statewide election in two decades.

If there is an election this fall, voters will be asked whether they want to remove Newsom and to choose his replacement from a list of eligible candidates. If a majority votes in favor of the recall, Newsom won’t be in the pool of candidates included in the second question.

While chances are Newsom will end up just the second California governor to face a recall election, joining fellow Democrat Gray Davis in 2003, Tuesday’s poll shows the enormity of the challenge his critics are facing in convincing an overwhelmingly blue state to throw out a liberal governor. 

California voters in 2018 elected the former San Francisco mayor over Republican businessman John Cox by a massive 62-38% margin and over two years later, Democrats still hold a 22% registration edge. 

Furthermore, despite the flood of signatures submitted by recall sponsors and the corresponding media coverage in recent weeks, the PPIC survey pegs Newsom’s approval rating among likely voters at 53%-up marginally from January and February. 

To convince voters to dump Newsom for a Republican like they did in 2003, PPIC President Mark Baldassare says the proponents’ best hope is for a wildcard candidate to enter the race. While Arnold Schwarzenegger’s surprise entry changed the pecking order in the wild 2003 race that included 135 candidates, so far the GOP is lacking such an enigmatic candidate.

“A few candidates have indicated their desire to run in 2021 but none have the qualities of Arnold Schwarzenegger or the statewide electoral track record of Gavin Newsom,” Baldassare wrote Tuesday in an accompanying blog entry. “Will a charismatic leader appear who has the name recognition and sufficient resources to mount a successful statewide campaign?”

Notable GOP candidates that have already jumped into the race include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Cox who lost to Newsom in 2018 and former Congressman Doug Ose. No prominent Democrats have thus far publicly announced a bid if the recall qualifies. 

One of the potential pathways for the recall backers is swaying the state’s hefty bloc of independent and third-party voters to shun Newsom at the ballot box.

According to the most recent registration update from elections officials, Republicans at 5.3 million narrowly outnumber the 5.2 million no-party preference voters. Democrats continue to hold a strong advantage with over 10.2 million.

But according to the poll, the proponents have some convincing to do as less than half of independents (42%) currently favor the recall.

When broken down geographically, none of the state’s five main regions registered majority support for the recall. Support was strongest in the Central Valley (49%) but much lower in heavily populated Los Angeles (40%) and the San Francisco Bay Area (27%). Over 60% of respondents said they were fairly or very closely following news coverage of the recall attempt.

The findings are based on phone interviews with 1,700 adults from across the state with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.3%.

The wide-ranging poll also found 74% of California adults believe the worst of the pandemic is over, up 16% from January. Respondents also expressed overwhelming support for the latest batch of federal Covid aid (75%) and of President Joe Biden’s early job performance (65%).  

Baldassare says Biden’s initial popularity in the Golden State could work in Newsom’s favor.

“The president’s coattails help,” he said. “Of those who approve of Biden, 11% would vote yes to remove Newsom, compared to 85% of those who disapprove of Biden.”

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