Democratic Voters Tuning Into Recall Election More, New Poll Finds

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A ballot for the upcoming recall election seeking to remove California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The election will be held on Sept. 14, 2021, although most registered voters have already received their ballots and can submit them now. Forty-six candidates, including nine Democrats, are running. (Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images)

For weeks, the prevailing assumption heading into California's Sept. 14 recall election has been that Republicans are far more likely to vote than Democrats, placing Gov. Gavin Newsom at risk of being tossed out of office, despite the state's overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

But a new survey of 782 likely voters, conducted by Change Research, a San Francisco-based polling firm that works for Democratic clients and progressive causes, indicates Democrats are paying closer attention now. The poll found that 92% of Democrats queried said they either planned to vote or had already sent in their ballots. That's up from 84% in the firm's June poll.

With more Democrats joining the "likely voter" pool, the survey found 42% of likely voters supporting the recall and 57% opposing it. Just 1% said they were undecided.

"To me, these are very encouraging numbers for Newsom and the 'no' campaign," said Change Research's senior pollster Ben Greenfield.

The previous poll showed 43% of likely voters supporting the recall and 54% against it.

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"What was driving those June numbers was that enthusiasm was lagging among Democratic voters. And what we see now is as the ballots go out, the 'no' campaign is spending a lot of money to make sure voters know what the stakes are. That message is getting through," Greenfield said.

A new Change Research survey indicates California Democrats are now paying closer attention to the recall than they appeared to be earlier this summer. (Courtesy Change Research)

That sentiment is underscored by recent tabulations from Political Data Inc., a nonpartisan analytics firm that is tracking returned recall ballots. As of Aug. 25, 55% of those ballots were returned by Democrats, suggesting a higher level of Democratic participation than initially assumed.

Over the last two months, Change Research polls have shown more favorable results for Newsom than many other polling firms. The site FiveThirtyEight, which tracks recall polling averages — adjusted for quality and sample size — currently shows 46.3% of likely voters supporting the recall, compared to 50.6% opposing it.

Another Newsom message that seems to be getting through: Don't fill out the second part of the ballot, which asks voters to choose replacement candidates if the governor is recalled. Among those voting No on the recall, 38% say they're leaving the second question blank, according to the Change Research survey.

Newsom and the California Democratic Party have been criticized by some analysts and academics for telling voters not to vote on the replacement question, saying that not doing so is throwing away a chance to shape what happens if the governor is recalled.

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Among the 46 replacement candidates, conservative talk show host Larry Elder is far and away the favorite, with support from 27% of likely voters, the Change Research poll found. Coming in a distant second is Democrat and YouTube entrepreneur Kevin Paffrath, with 6%. The rest of the field, including Republicans Kevin Faulconer, John Cox and Kevin Kiley, are at 4% and below.

"No Democrat has consolidated Democratic voters in the same way Larry Elder has with Republicans," Greenfield said.

The poll also found that among those voting no on the recall, more than half, 51%, said they are doing so because they want Newsom to remain in office, while 38% said they just don't want a Republican setting California's policies.

Another 5% of "no" voters expressed concern over who would be appointed to serve out the remainder of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's term if the 88-year-old Democrat were unable to complete her term.

The Change Research poll was conducted online from Aug. 22-25. Respondents were recruited using targeted advertisements on Facebook and Instagram as well as individual websites via Google. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.7%.