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With pandemic fears fading and more than half of Californians approving of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s job performance, a recall effort to boot him from office faces long odds, according to a new poll.

Signatures are still being verified before a special recall election can land on the ballot, but if it were held today, 56% of likely voters would vote against removing Newsom from office and 40% — overwhelmingly Republicans — would vote to oust him, according to the Public Policy Institute of California poll released Tuesday.

“People who will vote no on the recall are saying he’s doing the best he can and he had no federal leadership for the first year or so, so you can’t hold him totally responsible for the pandemic response,” said Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University, Sacramento. “Yes, he made mistakes, and going to the French Laundry was stupid, but should I vote to recall him? No.”

Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference to discuss Los Angeles County, and local organizations helping to vaccinate hard-to-reach communities in South Gate on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG) 

Unlike immigration reform, which the PPIC poll shows has broad bipartisan support, opinions about the recall fall heavily along political lines. Some 79% of Republicans say they support the recall, according to the PPIC survey, compared with 42% of Independents and 15% of Democrats.

“The share who would vote now to remove the governor is similar to the 38% who did not vote for Newsom in the fall of 2018,” Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, said in a statement.

Despite Newsom’s missteps over the past year and Californians’ frustrations over the COVID-19 lockdown, the governor’s popularity has remained largely unchanged since pre-pandemic days, with 54% of Californians approving of his job performance now compared with 53% in February 2020. His approval rating peaked at the height of the pandemic in May 2020 at 65%, six months before he was photographed dining with a group at the opulent French Laundry restaurant in Napa County in the midst of his shelter-in-place order.

In California history, only one governor has been recalled — Democrat Gray Davis in 2003, in the midst of a recession and electricity crisis. The political landscape was far different then. Republicans made up 35% of the state’s voters back then compared with 24% now, according to the PPIC. Davis was elected with a 5-point margin compared with Newsom’s 24-point margin. Leading up to the Davis recall, at least half of those polled said they would vote to remove him, compared with 40% wanting to remove Newsom. In 2003, movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger landed on the ballot to replace Davis and so far no one with that popularity or name recognition has surfaced in the Newsom recall. In the end, Davis was voted out of office by 55% of Californians.

In an interview this week with ABC-7, former Gov. Davis acknowledged the differences between the two recall efforts and suggested that putting the pandemic “in the rearview mirror” will help Newsom survive the campaign to oust him.

When Californians feel better about themselves and their future, Davis said in the interview, “they’re going to feel better about all those public health officials and all those elected officials who helped navigate them through this.”

In many ways, Californians are already starting to feel better about the future, according to the PPIC poll. In a finding that spanned demographics and regions, an overwhelming majority of Californians — 74% — told pollsters that the worst of the pandemic is behind them. This is an improvement of 16 percentage points from January, when 58% felt optimistic they had already endured the worst of the coronavirus.

The poll of 1,706 adult Californians taken between March 14-23 also surveyed opinions about the vaccine, finding that 33% had already received the vaccine and 28% were planning on getting it. Among racial groups, Black people were the most likely to say they would refuse the vaccine, with 29% saying they either definitely or probably wouldn’t get it, although their opinions softened from January when 55% said they were against taking the vaccine. Some 22% of Latinos said they wouldn’t get the vaccine, which remained constant since January, while 20% of White people said they wouldn’t get it (down from 25% in January).

Both the state and federal coronavirus relief packages appear to be popular among a strong majority of Californians. More than 70% of Californians support the $1.6 billion coronavirus aid package signed by Newsom, the poll found, as well as the federal government’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. Democrats make up the majority of support, however, with fewer than 40% of Republicans supporting either relief package.

There is more unity among Democrats and Republicans, however, on an issue that has been implacable in Congress for decades — comprehensive immigration reform.

Some 85% of Californians agree that there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as long as certain requirements are met. That’s about the same level of support for an immigration overhaul as in 2013, according to the poll. Some 93% of Democrats support immigration reform as do 68% of Republicans and 81% of independents.