Campaign to Recall Newsom Faces Uphill Climb With Voters, Survey Shows

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Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference to introduce his nominee for California attorney general, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, at the International Hotel Manilatown Center in San Francisco on March 24, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom from office faces early opposition from the state's electorate, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

As election officials around the state review the voter signatures required to force a recall election, 56% of likely voters told the PPIC that they would vote against recalling Newsom, while 40% would vote to replace him.

Leaders of the recall campaign have expressed confidence that they have submitted far more than the 1,495,709 valid voter signatures that were required by March 17 to qualify an election. County officials are checking the signatures – an announcement on whether the recall has qualified could come in April.

But despite voter anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic and California's economy, Newsom's admitted missteps and the increasing likelihood of a historic recall election, the poll exposes the static nature of voter opinions toward the governor.

After all, the 40% of likely voters willing to toss Newsom from office this year is about the same as the 38% who voted against him in 2018. And the 53% of likely voters who approve of his job performance in this survey is nearly identical to his pre-pandemic level of approval, measured at 52% of likely voters in February 2020.

And while backers of the bid to replace Newsom have touted the bipartisan bona fides of their effort, the PPIC survey shows a stark divide in the feelings of California Democrats and Republicans.

"Most importantly, Gov. Newsom enjoys overwhelming support among Democratic likely voters, and that's something that he has maintained in the last year," said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the PPIC. "That is really his base and they've remained consistently with him."

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Just 15% of likely Democratic voters support the recall, compared with 79% of Republicans. And only 4% of voters who approve of Newsom's performance (and 11% of voters who approve of President Biden) would vote to remove Newsom.

"California voters are very divided politically and they very strongly take sides based on their partisanship," Baldassare added. "For Newsom, the strong support that he has among Democrats today means a lot to his political survival this year."

The survey, conducted between March 14 and 23, presents a very different political landscape than former Gov. Gray Davis faced at the onset of the successful campaign to recall him from office in 2003.

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PPIC surveys released throughout that year showed a consistent majority of voters supporting the recall, while disapproval of Davis' performance hovered around 75%.

Davis and Newsom are "worlds apart" at this stage of the recall campaign, Baldassare said.

"The biggest difference is among Democrats," he said. "There were more Democrats who were willing to go along with the recall election because they disapproved [of Davis], and Newsom does not have those circumstances."

Baldassare said that the Newsom administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to influence how voters view the governor.

Coronavirus response was the top issue for the electorate in the PPIC's January survey, and now 79% of likely voters responded that "the worst is behind us" in the pandemic.

And after a rocky rollout of vaccinations in California, voter perceptions have improved: While fewer than half of likely voters (45%), say the state is doing an excellent or good job with distribution, that number is up from the 28% who gave Newsom and his administration high marks in January.