Polls show California recall gaining steam

The share of California voters who say they will vote to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) from office is quietly growing about 10 weeks before they head to the polls, a troubling sign for an incumbent who faces quietly mounting crises across his state.

A survey released Tuesday by the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, found 47 percent of likely voters saying they would back the recall effort and 50 percent saying they were opposed.

Among all registered voters, just 36 percent back removing Newsom from office. But growing enthusiasm among recall supporters, and especially Republican voters who are deep in the minority in liberal California, is becoming an existential threat to Newsom’s political career. 

Republicans “are confident that they can turn out the governor,” Mark DiCamillo, the polling director, told the Times. “I think the Newsom campaign really has to light a fire among the Democrats and say, ‘Look, the outcome is in jeopardy unless you get out there and vote.’ ”

Republicans make up just a quarter of registered voters in California, but they account for a third of the likely voters who made it through the poll’s screening questions, a sign of sky-high enthusiasm. Democratic voters make up 46 percent of all California registered voters, but just 42 percent of the voters that say they are likely to cast ballots in the recall.

The Berkeley poll is the second released in the last week that shows recall supporters gaining ground. An Emerson College poll out last week showed 43 percent of voters backing the recall, while 48 percent were opposed; a March survey conducted by the same pollsters showed just 38 percent backed the recall. 

Newsom’s backers have sought to portray the recall as a Republican effort to seize power by illegitimate means. In a statement, a spokesman for Newsom highlighted the urgency of turning voters out to the polls. 

“This poll should be a wake-up call for Democratic voters and all those who don’t want to see a Trump Republican become governor of California,” the spokesman, Nathan Click, said in an email. “In a normal election, this Republican recall wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in Death Valley. Californians don’t want a Republican takeover of our state, but if Democrats don’t vote, that’s what could happen.”

California voters are deeply divided over which candidate they would want to replace Newsom if the vote were to happen today. The race lacks both a well-known celebrity, like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he ran in the 2003 recall, or any prominent Democrat, after the party’s top officials all took a pass on the contest at Newsom’s urging. 

The Berkeley poll showed conservative talk radio host Larry Elder (R), who joined the field at the last minute, leading the way with 18 percent of the vote. Businessman John Cox (R), who lost to Newsom in 2018, and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R) are tied at 10 percent. Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R) takes 5 percent, and YouTube star Kevin Paffrath (D) and reality television personality Caitlyn Jenner (R) each stand at 3 percent.

Newsom has yet to begin mounting the kind of serious paid media campaign that is likely to define the closing weeks of the race. His campaign has raised $9.3 million, according to campaign finance reports, while anti-recall committees have pulled in $23 million likely to be used on the media blitz and turnout efforts.

Cox has raised $7.7 million, most of it from his own checkbook, as the best-funded Republican candidate. Faulconer has raised $2.8 million, and committees that back recalling Newsom but no specific replacement have pulled in another $5.1 million.

Much of the money on Newsom’s side will be spent encouraging voters to get to the polls — or, crucially, to return ballots that are already sitting on their kitchen tables. Newsom signed legislation earlier this year that would require California’s election administrators to send mail-in ballots to every voter for every election conducted in 2021, a holdover from the coronavirus pandemic that could aid his turnout efforts.

But the pandemic itself is one of the series of catastrophes that are testing Newsom in the final weeks before voters pass judgment. The spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus has forced some California counties to reimpose mask mandates in indoor spaces, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Wildfires are spreading in Northern California, signaling another year of deadly conflagrations that will kick off in earnest in the fall. And a decades-long drought is both contributing to the dangers of fire season and impacting farmers across the parched Central Valley.

Newsom’s approval rating has slid throughout the pandemic after voters gave him strong marks in the early months of lockdowns and restrictions. The Berkeley poll shows his approval rating at 50 percent, down from 64 percent who approved last September.

Tags California Gavin Newsom Governor's election Kevin Faulconer Newsom recall effort Recall election
See all Hill.TV See all Video