Californians split on Newsom recall; 48% say they’d vote to keep him, new poll finds

Inside California Politics

As the recall election nears, an exclusive Inside California Politics / Emerson College poll found that Californians are split when it comes to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s performance, with 43% saying they would vote to recall the governor. 

The exclusive new statewide poll of more than 1,000 registered voters, which has a margin of error of +/-2.9%, shows while Californians support keeping Newsom in office after the recall election, more than half think it’s time for new leadership in 2022, when he is up for re-election.

About 48% of respondents said they would vote to keep the governor in the Sept. 14 recall election. A smaller percentage, 43%, said they would vote to recall Newsom. Meanwhile, 9% of poll respondents identified as undecided.

Would you vote to recall or to keep Gov. Newsom? 

Vote to recall: 43%
Vote to keep Gov. Newsom: 48%
Undecided: 9%

In the election, voters will be asked two questions. The first will be if Newsom should be removed. Then the second would provide a list of replacement candidates to choose from.

A majority of voters would need to approve of Newsom’s recall for him to be removed. The poll shows there’s not enough support for that at this time.

Regardless of the recall effort, would you vote to re-elect Gov. Newsom in 2022 or do you think it is time for someone new?

Re-elect Gov. Newsom: 42%
Time for someone new: 58%

Nearly half of the respondents approve of how Newsom is performing as governor overall, while 42% disapprove. 

Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the job Gov. Gavin Newsom is doing as governor?

Approve: 49%
Disapprove: 42%
Unsure or no opinion: 10% 

Earlier this year, Newsom acknowledged mistakes in communicating with the public last year, before the first loosening of coronavirus restrictions led to an early summer spike in cases. 

The poll found 33% of respondents rated Newsom’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as poor, while 28% rated it as good, 20% said it was excellent and 19% said it was fair.

How would you rate the job Newsom has done to handle the COVID-19 pandemic – excellent, good, fair, or poor? 

Excellent: 20%
Good: 28%
Fair: 19%
Poor: 33%

When it comes to California’s homelessness crisis, more than half of respondents rated Newsom’s response as poor. A total 25% voted fair, and 16% voted good. Just 7% of respondents said his response was excellent.

How would you rate the job Gov. Newsom has done to handle homelessness – excellent, good, fair or poor?

Excellent: 7%
Good: 16%
Fair: 25%
Poor: 52%

As for his handling of California’s massive wildfires, 36% of respondents rated Newsom’s response as poor, 30% as good, 22% as fair and 12% as excellent.

How would you rate the job Gov. Newsom has done to handle California wildfires – excellent, good, fair or poor?

Excellent: 12%
Good: 30%
Fair: 22%
Poor: 36%

Earlier this month, Newsom asked people and businesses in California to voluntarily cut water use by 15% as the Western United States weathers a drought that is rapidly emptying reservoirs relied on for agriculture, drinking water and fish habitat. Newsom also added nine counties to an emergency drought proclamation that now covers 50 of the state’s 58 counties. 

According to the poll, 35% of respondents said Newsom’s response to the drought emergency was poor, 29% voted it was good, 27% said it was fair and 9% said excellent. 

How would you rate the job Gov. Newsom has done to handle the current drought – excellent, good, fair, or poor?

Excellent: 9%
Good: 29%
Fair: 27%
Poor: 35%

Currently, conservative talk radio host Larry Elder is leading the race to replace Gov. Newsom if he is recalled by voters. A poll found that 16% of voters would choose Elder to replace Newsom if he is recalled, while John Cox and Kevin Faulconer trailed behind, both at 6%. 

A Sacramento County judge on Wednesday ruled California’s Secretary of State Shirley Weber must put Elder on the ballot as a candidate on the final certified list of candidates.

More than half of respondents remain undecided on who they would support to replace Newsom if the recall is successful.

Which candidate would you vote for to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom if he is recalled?
John Cox: 6%
Larry Elder: 16%
Kevin Faulconer: 6%
Caitlyn Jenner: 4%
Kevin Kiley: 2%
Kevin Paffrath: 2%
Undecided: 53%
Someone else: 8%

The Recall Effort 

The recall was fueled by frustration over Newsom’s stay-at-home orders meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as well as anger when reports surfaced that the governor attended a party with lobbyist friends at French Laundry last fall, while he was telling Californians to stay home. 

Recall organizers gathered more than 2 million signatures to force the recall election and have railed against what they said were Newsom’s overreaching policies during the pandemic. 

The election is set for Sept. 14, though ballots will be mailed to voters in August. 

In the election, voters’ answers to who should replace Newsom will only be counted if more than half vote “yes” on recalling him first.

Last week, a judge ruled Newsom can’t put his Democratic Party affiliation on the ballot voters see when they decide whether to remove him, a judge ruled.

Newsom’s campaign had missed a deadline to submit his affiliation to California Secretary of State Shirley Weber for the Sept. 14 recall election. It’s unclear if the lack of a party designation will have any practical impact. 

Last month, Newsom signed a law that again changes the recall rules, this time to speed up the election. 

Why exactly is there a recall drive against Newsom? The answer is complicated: Californians grew angry over a difficult year. Whipsaw pandemic lockdowns, crushing job losses from business closures, shuttered schools and the disruption of daily life soured just about everybody. 

The complicated part: In a state with nearly 40 million people, there are many grievances, from California’s wallet-sapping taxes to an ongoing homelessness crisis. As governor, Newsom became a target for that resentment. 

For months, Newsom steered around questions about a possible recall election but in March launched an aggressive campaign strategy, fundraising, running ads attacking the recall, and doing national TV and cable interview 

Newsom, who was elected in a 2018 landslide, sees the recall as an attack on California’s progressive policies. 

The recall is backed by state and national Republicans, but organizers argue they have a broad-based coalition, including many independents and Democrats.

It’s not uncommon in California for residents to seek recalls but they rarely get on the ballot— and even fewer succeed. A sitting governor has previously been ousted in the state, when unpopular Democrat Gray Davis was recalled in 2003 and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenneger.

The official list of who’s running in the recall election remains unsettled. The list of 41 candidates released over the weekend by the state lacked the panache of the more than 100 candidates who ran in California’s last recall of a governor in 2003. But it includes a range of candidates from the anonymous to the famous. The list includes 21 Republicans, eight Democrats, one Libertarian, nine Independents and two Green Party members. 

The Inside California Politics/Emerson College poll was conducted July 19-20, 2021. The sample consisted of California registered voters, n=1,085, with a Credibility Interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

Nexstar Media has stations nationwide, including KTLA. Other California stations include KRON in San Francisco, KTXL in Sacramento, KSEE/KGPE in Fresno, KGET in Bakersfield and KSWB in San Diego.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify poll results related to Gov. Newsom’s handling of the pandemic.

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