Statewide Poll Finds Good News for Newsom, Bad News for GOP Opponents

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A 1,000 pound Kodiak bear sits behind California Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox as he speaks during a campaign rally at Miller Regional Park on May 4, 2021 in Sacramento. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

For all the hoopla that has surrounded the campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, like the entry into the race of a high-profile reality TV star to press conferences with a live bear, one thing has remained virtually unchanged: California voters are disinclined to support removing Newsom from office.

In a new poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, the percentage of registered voters saying they'll vote yes on the recall is 36%, precisely where it was in their previous poll taken in late January.

And that spells trouble for Newsom's challengers. Not even a 1,000-pound bear managed to push that needle.

"Thirty-six percent is a long way from the 50 percent-plus-one that they'd need to remove him from office," said Mark DiCamillo, Berkeley IGS Poll director. "There hasn't been any movement up on the yes recall vote. So I guess that is good news" for Newsom.

The only real change from the January poll conducted by IGS is that the "no" vote ticked up slightly, from 45% to 49%. Fifteen percent in the current poll are undecided.

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Voters remain highly divided by party on the recall question. Among registered Democrats, just 8% support it, while 85% of Republicans do. Independent or no party preference voters are more closely divided, with 33% supporting the recall, 45% opposed and 22% undecided. And while an overwhelming percentage of Republicans support the recall, they are vastly outnumbered by registered Democrats in California.

Newsom Rebuffs Recall

The only part of the state where the recall is supported by a majority of voters is in the North Coast/Sierras region where 52% support recalling Newsom. The lowest level of support for the recall is in the San Francisco Bay Area (25%) and Los Angeles County (28%).

The results in Orange County reflect the changing politics there. Once a hotbed of Republican conservatism, it has become more favorable to Democrats in recent years. Now in Orange County, voters are split right down the middle with 45% supporting and 45% opposing the recall. Ten percent are undecided.

Several relatively well-known Republicans are running to replace Newsom, and the poll has good news for exactly none of them.

Asked which of the four Republicans they would prefer for governor if Newsom is recalled, former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and businessman John Cox each received 22%, while nearly half of voters said they would not be inclined to support either one.

Former Congressman Doug Ose, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, was third with 14% support and 48% saying they would not support him.

Reality TV celebrity and transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner, whose entry into the race caused the biggest media stir, registered a paltry 6% support with 76% of registered voters saying they'd be disinclined to support her.

Pollster DiCamillo notes that without a change in voter preferences on the first question on the ballot, it won't matter how much support Faulconer, Cox and the others are able to muster.

"The main task ahead for the replacement candidates is to get a 'yes' vote on the recall of Newsom or else it's all pretty moot," DiCamillo told KQED. "All in all, none of the Republican replacement candidates are attracting broad support at this stage in the election cycle."

If a majority of voters end up supporting the recall, whichever candidate wins the most votes becomes governor, no matter what percentage of the vote they get.

In the 2003 recall campaign against then-Gov. Gray Davis, more than 100 people ran to replace him, most notably former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who placed first with nearly 49% of the vote.

In that year, former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat, ran as one of the replacement options in case Davis was recalled. He ended up second, far behind Schwarzenegger.

This year, Newsom and the Democratic Party establishment are urging any viable Democrat to refrain from running out of fear it will undermine Newsom's framing of the recall as a Republican-inspired plot. But according to the Berkeley IGS Poll, Democratic voters would prefer to have a Democrat on the replacement ballot.

How a Democrat Influenced a CA Gov Recall

Asked to choose between having Democrats remaining united against the recall without offering an alternate to Newsom on the ballot versus having another Democrat on the ballot to replace Newsom if the recall passes, 48% of registered Democrats said they preferred having another Democrat to choose from while 29% favored not having a Democrat run at all. Twenty-three percent of Democrats were undecided on that question.

"So that's an interesting finding and that the Democratic leadership and the governor himself, you know, they're not really in line with how registered Democrats would choose to do that," DiCamillo noted.

There was other good news for Newsom in the survey. Fifty-two percent of registered voters approve of the job he's doing as governor. That's up from 46% in late January, although lower than his peak approval rate of 64% before the pandemic.

Voters also appraise his overall handling of the pandemic much better than they did in January, during the peak of the shutdown. Then just 31% thought Newsom was doing a good or excellent job versus 45% who say that today. And 54% of voters approve of the job Newsom is doing overseeing the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.

The same cannot be said for his handling of schools during the pandemic. Just 31% say he's doing a good or excellent job managing that versus 38% who says doing badly, an issue that has been a focus of recall proponents.

The Berkeley IGS Poll was administered online in English and Spanish from April 29 to May 5, 2021 among 10,289 California registered voters. The sampling error was approximately +/- 2 percentage points.