Bellwether California poll shows Newsom surviving recall

Fewer than 4 in 10 California voters support removing Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Shipwreck sends waste thousands of miles Less than 2 percent of philanthropy goes toward our biggest threat — climate change Appeals court blocks California vaccine mandate for prison workers MORE (D) from office in this month’s recall election, according to a new poll of likely voters released just over a week before ballots are due to be returned.

Just 39 percent of likely voters told pollsters at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) they would vote to recall Newsom, while 58 percent said they would vote against the recall. Those figures are in line with earlier PPIC polls in March and May, which showed Newsom surviving by roughly the same margin.

About 4 in 5 Republicans will vote to recall Newsom. But the overwhelming majority of Democrats, 90 percent, say they will vote to keep him — and so do a plurality, 49 percent, of independent voters.

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Newsom’s campaign has long staked its fortunes on labeling the recall a naked power grab fueled by Republicans and supporters of former President TrumpDonald TrumpMedia giants side with Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents Cheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official MORE. The poll offers a data point to back up what Democratic strategists around the state have been saying for weeks: that Newsom’s message has woken up Democratic voters to the prospects that a Republican who receives just a tiny fraction of the vote could replace their governor.

Three-quarters of likely Democratic voters say the outcome of the recall election is very important to them, higher than the 67 percent of Republican voters who said the same.

Republican voters remain more enthusiastic about voting in the recall election than their Democratic counterparts, but the sheer advantage Democrats have in a state where their party’s voters outnumber the GOP by a nearly two-to-one margin may be sufficient to overcome any kind of enthusiasm gap.

A survey of ballots that have actually been returned shows a similarly strong turnout among Democratic voters: Of the more than 4.6 million ballots that have been returned, Democrats account for 2.5 million, or 54 percent — a higher share than the 47 percent they make up on the voter rolls, according to Political Data Inc., a California-based firm.

Just under a quarter of the ballots returned come from registered Republicans, about in line with their share of overall voter registrations.

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Registration statistics are an imperfect measure by which to judge the overall shape of an electorate, though they offer at least a proxy by which to measure the turnout efforts into which Newsom’s team has poured tens of millions of dollars.

Just over a quarter of likely voters, 26 percent, said they would vote to replace Newsom with Larry Elder (R), the conservative radio host who entered the race in July and the only contender to score a double-digit share of the electorate. About the same share, 25 percent, said they would not vote on the recall’s second question, and 24 percent said they did not know whom they would support as a replacement.

Five percent said they backed Kevin FaulconerKevin FaulconerFinal California recall count shows Newsom with tally identical to 2018 Republicans trapped in a media prison of their own making Seven takeaways from California's recall election MORE (R), the former mayor of San Diego who is simultaneously running for governor in 2022. Three percent each chose businessman John Cox (R), who lost to Newsom in 2018, and state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R). Just 1 percent said they would back former Olympian and reality television personality Caitlyn Jenner (R).

The poll did not ask respondents about any of the low-profile Democrats who are on the ballot.

Fifty-three percent of California voters say they approve of the job Newsom has done as governor, roughly in line with his ratings through the year and a sign that the competing catastrophes slamming the state — from vicious wildfires to a resurgent wave of coronavirus infections — have not taken the disastrous political toll that some Democrats had privately feared.

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More than three quarters of California voters say the state did an excellent or good job at handling the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, though only 47 percent say the state is headed in the right direction.

Then again, even that figure compares well for Newsom against the last time a governor faced a recall, in 2003. Eighteen years ago, only 22 percent of the state’s voters said California was headed in the right direction; days later, 55 percent of voters opted to boot Gov. Gray Davis (D) from office.

The PPIC poll surveyed 1,080 likely voters from Aug. 20 to 28. The poll carried a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.