Gov. Gavin Newsom would easily defeat an attempt to recall him if the election were held today, as many Californians are optimistic that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind them and believe the governor is doing a good job, a new poll indicates.
The poll of likely voters found that 56% oppose removing Newsom from office while 40% back the recall, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. That’s almost as wide a margin as in the 2018 governor’s race in which Newsom defeated John Cox, one of the Republicans who has declared himself as a replacement candidate in a recall election that is likely to be held later this year.
The survey “is good news for Newsom,” said Mark Baldassare, the institute’s president and CEO. “The burden of proof (to recall Newsom) is on the people who brought this before voters, and they haven’t moved that level of support much since 2018.”
The Republican-backed recall effort does have the support of 79% of likely GOP voters, the poll found. But few others have joined them. Not only are Democrats overwhelmingly opposed, but just 42% of independents support ousting Newsom, according to the survey.
Newsom’s job approval rating among likely voters is 53%, virtually unchanged from the 52% he enjoyed in both the institute’s January survey and its February 2020 poll. That poll was taken just before the governor issued a pandemic stay-at-home order that has since evolved into a multiprong system controlling which aspects of public life can be open and at what levels.
The stability of Newsom’s approval rating translates to little momentum for recalling him, Baldassare said.
“If I was looking for momentum, I would look at the approval ratings,” Baldassare said. “I’m not seeing momentum in this survey.”
Most important, said Baldassare, is that the vast majority of likely Democratic voters remain supportive of the governor in a state where Democrats account for nearly twice as many registered voters as Republicans.
“We live at a time when it is difficult for partisans to change their mind about who they are supporting and who they are opposing,” Baldassare said. “We see results that reflect the fact that most Democrats support (Newsom) — and have been with him from day one — and most Republicans are not with him.”
Local elections officials are checking the 2.1 million petition signatures that supporters turned in this month to see if backers gathered the nearly 1.5 million valid ones needed to qualify the recall for the ballot. Both sides assume the recall will be certified, but an election is unlikely to happen before October.
That delay could be a boon to Newsom. Supporters say their signature gathering became easier as pandemic-related shutdowns dragged into the winter, but public life now is edging toward normal, with new coronavirus cases well down from their highs and vaccinations rapidly spreading. The poll found that 74% of likely voters say the worst of the pandemic is over, a 16-point increase from the number who felt that way in January.
The survey also found that 45% of likely voters say the state government is doing an excellent or good job in vaccine distribution — a significant jump from January, when 28% felt that way. Just 20% feel that the state is doing a poor job in distributing the vaccine, down from 34% in January.
The way people perceive the state to be handling the pandemic has “a lot” to do with how they feel about recalling Newsom, Baldassare said. The institute’s January survey showed that most voters said the pandemic was their top concern.
“The way people are feeling about COVID (is) the way people are feeling about the governor,” Baldassare said. “They’re feeling some relief in how things are going — and that impacts the approval ratings, which correlated to how they feel about the recall.”
There is not a majority of support to remove Newsom in any part of California, the poll found. The greatest support for the recall is in the Central Valley, where 49% of likely voters want the governor removed. The lowest levels of support are in the former San Francisco mayor’s Bay Area home region (27%). The poll found that 40% of Los Angeles residents want Newsom recalled.
There is also little appetite (41% support) for the recall in Orange County/San Diego — the home region of Cox and another Republican challenger to Newsom, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
Baldassare said the two have “a lot of work to do in growing their support beyond their (GOP) base. When you haven’t run a statewide campaign before (like Faulconer) or ran one and wasn’t competitive (like Cox), this survey shows you’ve got real work to do.”
Also helping Newsom is that the survey found that 70% of likely voters support the $7.6 billion COVID-19 relief package he signed in February. The measure will send $600 checks to more than 5 million low-income households, regardless of their immigration status, and provide billions of dollars in grants to help small businesses stay afloat.
The survey’s positive news for Newsom is likely to tamp down speculation on whether a Democrat might run as a replacement candidate in a recall election. Over the last week, leading California Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have discouraged other Democrats from jumping into a race to replace Newsom, who cannot run as a replacement candidate.
Many of those seen as possible challengers have issued statements saying they are not interested.
“No, I will not be (a candidate) under any circumstance,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Fremont, told The Chronicle this week. “While candidly I have received a surprising number of calls, I have been clear that I support Newsom and we need to be united as Democrats in opposing this effort.”
Others who have issued similar statements include Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Adam Schiff of Burbank.
It’s a far cry from what happened in 2003, when the entire California House delegation supported Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as a replacement candidate in the recall election of Gov. Gray Davis. Bustamante’s candidacy is thought to have weakened Democratic opposition to the recall, which ended in Davis’ ouster and the election of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I believe a recall is only appropriate in cases of gross negligence or incapacitation,” Feinstein said in an email to The Chronicle. “Gov. Newsom has led California through the largest public health crisis in a century.”
The Public Policy Institute of California conducted its poll of 1,174 likely voters March 14-23, in English and Spanish, via landlines and cell phones. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.