Hoo boy: New poll shows Californians in favor of recalling Newsom, 51/40

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, Pool

A month ago, weeks after all pandemic restrictions had finally been lifted in the state, California officials announced the gubernatorial recall election would be held on September 14. That seemed logical enough for Democrats. Holding the election sooner rather than later in the fall would give Republicans less time to organize and would force voters to render a verdict on Gavin Newsom before the expected fall surge of the coronavirus began.

On July 1, the day the recall date was set, COVID cases in California were rock bottom at an average of 1,173 per day. Then Delta showed up. Today they’re on the cusp of averaging 10,000 cases daily again; hospitalizations over the intervening month have nearly quadrupled. Instead of voting on Newsom after enjoying a long summer of freedom from the pandemic, Californians will go to the polls having just endured another nasty wave — and another round of restrictions in the state’s biggest county, which reinstated masking indoors for everyone a few weeks ago.

Dems bet that an early vote would favor Newsom. They appear to have bet wrong.

This past spring, as cases in the state declined rapidly, the “retain Newsom” position reliably led the “recall Newsom” contingent in polling by double digits. That’s now changed. All three polls taken in July showed the lead for “retain” down to mid- or low single digits. Then, yesterday, Survey USA dropped a bombshell. “Recall” by … 11?

The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for The San Diego Union-Tribune, KGTV 10News in San Diego and KABC-TV in Los Angeles, said 51 percent of those asked indicated they would vote to remove Newsom from office.

Forty percent of respondents said they would vote no on the recall…

According to SurveyUSA, registered Republican voters overwhelmingly support removing the incumbent first-term governor, by a ratio of 8 to 1.

Democrats oppose the recall effort 3-to-1, the poll found. Independent voters supported the notion of recalling Newsom by a ratio of 5 to 3, the survey said.

Previous polling had suggested that COVID wasn’t the biggest factor in wanting to remove Newsom but rather “because he has failed to adequately address many of the state’s longstanding problems.” But Survey USA says no, it’s COVID. Specifically, the restrictions Newsom imposed to try to contain the virus:

Note that “COVID restrictions” is treated as a separate category from “closures of businesses,” “closures of schools,” and “party during lockdown.” Combine all four and you get 61 percent of pro-recall voters citing Newsom’s handling of the pandemic as their reasons for wanting him out.

Could this guy … actually lose?

If he does, I’d bet good money that it won’t be by anywhere near an 11-point margin. Something like 52/48 is more plausible. But he really could lose, argues RCP’s Sean Trende today. For three reasons: The election is a pure referendum on a politician whose state has had a very rough 18 months, Newsom’s job approval just ain’t that hot, and ballots are being mailed to all voters in the state to make turnout as easy as possible. Imagine the irony if mail-in voting, relentlessly derided by Republicans last year, ends up carrying them to an enormous win in the country’s biggest state.

[U]nder current California law, ballots are to be mailed to everyone. While this might help in a general election, where there is already an atmosphere of excitement and energy, it isn’t clear how it plays here. This could be a situation where, like the infamous Literary Digest poll of 1936, disproportionate energy in one segment of the electorate could skew the results from what we might see in general. In other words, if Democrats are in general apathetic about Newsom’s recall, while Republicans are energized to see him go, it could work to Republicans’ advantage. Having the recall election on Sept. 14, rather than on a normal November Election Day, will not help Democrats.

Nearly every Republican in California is going to send in their mail ballot, maximizing GOP turnout. That’s not enough in itself to win in a state as blue as California, but if independents really are pro-recall on balance (as Survey USA found) and Democrats aren’t motivated to rescue Newsom, that has the makings of an upset. A previous poll found 80 percent of Republicans said they would definitely vote versus just 55 percent of Democrats.

On the other hand, mail ballots make it easy for Dems to boost turnout over the next month. They don’t need to convince anyone to take the time and effort to leave their home and head to the polls for Newsom, just to fill out the ballot that’s coming to them already. They have the numbers, easily, to win this recall for him. It’s a simple matter of convincing their own base to pay attention for a month and send in their votes.

Which makes the outcome here hard to predict, in multiple ways. The only safe bet is that Caitlyn Jenner, who suspended her campaign to film a reality show, won’t be the next governor. She’s at four percent in the Survey USA poll and had only $21,000 in cash on hand versus $156,000 in unpaid bills as of the end of last month. Good work by Brad Parscale’s outfit in delivering those kinds of results for her.

Wait, you’re thinking, if Newsom’s about to be recalled, then who will the next governor be? With 46 candidates on the ballot that’s hard to say, but it looks like Republicans are consolidating behind commentator Larry Elder. He was the highest-polling righty in Survey USA’s data at 23 percent. He was not, however, the highest-polling candidate. That would be a Democrat named Kevin Paffrath, whose claim to fame is being a YouTube star (and real-estate broker) with more than a million subscribers. Newsom discouraged well-known pols from his own party from joining this race, believing that if there was an attractive Democratic option on the ballot, some Dem voters would vote to recall him in hopes of replacing him with the other prominent Democrat as governor. But that’s a dangerous game, as Trende noted, since now there’s no credible Dem alternative for voters to unite behind if Newsom ends up falling short on the recall question.

In other words, the governor of California for the next 16 months or so is apt to be either Elder or this guy.