On 14 September, California is facing a Special Election on whether to recall current Governor Gavin Newsom. Voters will be asked if Governor Newsom should be removed from office and, if so, which candidate should replace him. If the recall is successful, it will be only the second time in California’s history that a serving Governor is recalled from office and replaced before their term is over. Here at Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we have polled the Californian public on their views on Governor Newsom’s potential recall and their overall views on his tenure so far.
Our Recall Election Voting Intention result finds ‘No’ leading by 8%. Altogether, 51% say they will vote ‘no,’ and 43% say they will vote ‘yes.’ The rest say they do not know how they will vote.
Likelihood to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ varies according to the partisan background of the respondents. Among those who say they are registered Democrats, 72% say they will vote ‘no.’ By contrast, 82% of those who say they are registered Republicans say they will vote ‘yes.’ However, a notable 21% of Democrat respondents also say they will vote ‘yes,’ suggesting that a discontented minority of Democrats could make this election a close race.
With the Recall Election likely to be a tight race, we asked Californians why they would vote to recall Newsom. Amongst those who would vote to recall Governor Newsom, three main reasons are given: his handling of the pandemic (66%), his immigration policies (63%), and his tax policies (52%).
Other reasons cited include Governor Newsom’s alleged corruption (39%), his handling of the wildfires (38%), his education policies (30%), and his involvement in national politics (22%). Importantly, the least cited reason by respondents saying they would vote to recall is his potential successors (12%), indicating that this election is seen primarily as a referendum on Gavin Newsom rather than as a contest between Newsom and someone else.
Turning to public opinion on Governor Gavin Newsom’s job performance so far, his net approval currently stands at +17%, with 49% approving of his overall job performance since he became Governor of California against 32% who disapprove. A further 15% neither approve nor disapprove, and 5% don’t know. However, strong disapproval, at 23%, outweighs strong approval, which stands at 19%, suggesting that the result of this election will depend on turnout among those who softly approve of Newsom’s performance.
Disapproval is highest amongst those who voted for Trump in 2020, 74% of whom disapprove—including 61% who strongly disapprove. Conversely, 74% of those who voted for Biden in 2020 say they approve of the Governor’s job performance so far—of whom, however, only 29% strongly approve. Strong disapproval is also particularly high among those aged 45 to 54 (36%) and 55 to 64 (37%), though pluralities of these age groups altogether approve (42% to 41% and 48% to 40%).
Paradoxically, even as Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions is the most cited reason among ‘Yes’ voters for voting ‘Yes,’ a majority of 53% approve of Governor Newsom’s performance on the coronavirus pandemic. 27% disapprove, and 15% neither approve nor disapprove of Newsom’s job performance regarding the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a +26% net approval. Other areas that see net approval include the broad categories of the economy (+18%) and the environment (+16%), as well as ‘addressing unemployment’ (+9%).
However, when we turn to Governor Newsom’s tax policy, we observe a crucial split in public opinion. A slim plurality of 34% disapproves of Governor Newsom’s performance in the area of tax policy, but a virtually equal proportion of 32% approves and 26% neither approve nor disapprove. The driver of this split in public opinion in this instance appears to be that strong disapproval of 70% amongst 2020 Trump voters is not matched by equally strong approval amongst Biden voters. Indeed, while 47% of those who voted for Biden in 2020 approve, a further 30% of this demographic neither approve nor disapprove and 14% disapprove.
We see a similar divide with regards to immigration: 33% disapprove of Governor Newsom’s job performance with regards to immigration policy, while 32% approve. A further quarter (26%) neither approves nor disapprove. Again, disapproval amongst Trump voters (75%) is not offset by approval amongst Biden voters, of whom just 49% approve. Further, disapproval is highest amongst 25-to-34-year-olds (36%), 45-to-54-year-olds (38%), and 55-to-64-year-olds (45%), suggesting that middle-aged Californians are also the most discontented with Newsom’s performance on immigration policy.
Finally, this split endures regarding crime and policing, with 34% disapproving against 33% approving, and 26% neither approving nor disapproving of Newsom’s job performance in this policy area. Similarly, 35% disapprove of Governor Newsom’s job performance on housing policy against 33% who approve, while a quarter (25%) express a neutral view.
The slightly negative approval regarding Governor Newsom’s job performance on tax and immigration policy is particularly notable, as both tax and immigration are cited as key reasons amongst those intending to vote to recall him in the September election. While the petition that has resulted in this election related to Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus policies, it appears that a successful campaign ‘Yes’ campaign is one that will emphasise different issues as tax and immigration where disapproval against Newsom is considerable and support for Newsom is lukewarm.