OAKLAND — Gov. Gavin Newsom is in a strong position to defeat a likely recall vote, according to a new poll of California voters.
A double-digit majority of likely voters said they would vote to retain Newsom, with 56 percent saying they would keep him versus 40 percent seeking to jettison the Democratic governor, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released Tuesday night.
The favorable poll bolsters Newsom’s argument that a recall fueled by pandemic fatigue will fall flat in Democrat-heavy California. While the effort to oust him hasn’t yet formally qualified for the ballot, it is overwhelmingly likely to go before voters in the fall. Newsom has launched a campaign in his defense and begun enlisting national Democratic luminaries, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams.
Overall, Newsom has a 53 percent approval rating, down from his peak of 65 percent in May 2020. That includes 77 percent approval among Democrats and a slight edge among no-party-preference voters, a growing constituency that makes up a quarter of voters and approves of Newsom 49 percent to 46 percent.
If Newsom can retain his position in the polls, that makes it less likely that another Democrat who senses vulnerability breaks ranks and chooses to run as a backup, which in turn could cut into Newsom’s support and make it more likely he’s recalled. PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare said Newsom needs to preserve support among Democrats, as former Gov. Gray Davis failed to do en route to voters recalling him in 2003.
“The key is the governor’s ability to continue to maintain his base,” Baldassare said. “That’s what got him elected in 2018, and that’s what will be key to his survival in 2021.”
Resistance to the recall effort spanned multiple demographics. An overwhelming 64-point majority of Democrats said they would vote to protect Newsom, reflecting the party’s hegemony in California, as did an 11-point majority of the independent voter bloc that comprises a quarter of California’s electorate. Newsom enjoyed plurality support in every area of the state except the more conservative Central Valley, with commanding margins in the populous Bay Area and Los Angeles regions.
The poll also found both Latinos and people with children in their households favor keeping Newsom by 20-point margins. The support of parents could be critical as Newsom navigates deep frustration over protracted school closures; voters resoundingly favored a recently enacted law that offers billions in funding for school that welcome back students.
Despite voters’ support for retaining Newsom, a clear majority supports the recall process and believe the challenge to Newsom is “appropriate.” That could dull efforts by Newsom and Democratic allies to depict the recall as a cynical abuse of power. California Democratic Party chair Rusty Hicks has already faced a backlash for branding the effort a “coup” comparable to the siege of the U.S. Capitol.
An improving coronavirus situation is likely buoying Newsom’s standing. Majorities of voters believe the worst of the pandemic is behind America and were less concerned about being hospitalized, although a majority continued to fault vaccine distribution. And while most voters said California is in a recession, 60 percent said they were not concerned about making rent or mortgage payments.
Newsom and allies have sought to undercut the recall by highlighting California’s progress in combating the coronavirus and touting a state relief package that channels money to struggling individuals and businesses. In a promising sign for Newsom, 70 percent of voters said they supported the aid.