Trafalgar poll shows Newsom's lead growing as recall campaign enters final week

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The polls lately have been discouraging but this new one is more discouraging than most, just because of where it comes from. There’s always a chance that pollsters are undercounting Republican voters in California the same way they undercounted Republicans in national presidential surveys last year. And if they are, that’s a big deal since Gavin Newsom is only a bit north of 50 percent right now. If the pros underestimate GOP strength by five points in this election a la last November, Newsom will be recalled and Larry Elder will be the next governor of California.

One firm that’s become famous for *not* undercounting Republicans, though, is Trafalgar. And their new one not only has Newsom up double digits but with a bigger lead than he had a week ago. The trend here is the same as in other surveys, away from recalling him.

At the end of August Trafalgar saw it 52/44 in favor of keeping Newsom. Today:

The good news for Elder is that he’s running away with the “Who should replace Newsom?” question with 32 percent of the vote, more than twice what the second-place candidate has. He’ll become governor if the GOP can get to 50.1 percent on the recall question, but the odds of that are getting longer. Interestingly, Trafalgar’s estimate of partisan turnout has Democrats at 48 percent versus Republicans at 26 percent; that’s surprising because last year’s presidential exit polls had Democrats at 50 percent of the electorate and Republicans at 30 percent. Dems are closer to replicating last year’s turnout than GOPers are, which isn’t what you’d expect in an election where all of the energy is supposed to be on the pro-recall side.

Maybe some California conservatives who identified as Republican last year have shifted into the independent column since?

Whatever the explanation, Newsom has now opened up a double-digit lead in FiveThirtyEight’s poll average for the first time since mid-July:

It’s worth noting that only once has the pro-recall position topped 50 percent in any poll. That was SurveyUSA back in early August and their more recent data had “do not recall” back in front by eight. Maybe that one outlier created a perception that Newsom was in deep trouble when in reality he never actually was.

The GOP has another problem. Thanks to Trump’s self-sabotaging campaign against mail-in ballots last year, some Republican voters remain wary of voting that way. Insofar as there’s any lingering resistance to that method among the base, the pro-recall faction may see lower-than-expected turnout. Republicans are scrambling to do something about it:

California Republicans will launch a campaign on Friday to convince conservatives to trust the state’s mail-in balloting system, hoping to boost turnout in the election to recall Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, party officials said…

The state party’s new campaign will acknowledge concerns about election integrity while also seeking to convince Republican voters they can trust the system, party leaders said. U.S. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy will be featured in an upcoming video urging people to vote…

The first two videos emphasize the party’s election integrity plan, which involves increasing poll watchers, hiring election lawyers and asking voters to report any irregularities. Then the speakers pivot to urging voters to cast their ballots.

It wouldn’t be the first time the GOP has blown a winnable election because Trump foolishly convinced his voters not to trust the system.

My theory on Newsom’s polling surge is that it’s a combination of COVID leveling off in California at an opportune moment and Newsom being gifted with a prominent foil in Elder. But he and his party are also working hard to nationalize the race, bringing in out-of-state pols like Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar to try to grab Democrats’ attention. All that stands between Newsom and an easy win is tepid Democratic engagement; he can’t get California Dems excited by running on his record but he can get them motivated by having Warren tell locals to “send a message” to Republicans across the country who want to ban abortion by handing Newsom a resounding triumph.

Kamala Harris is headed to the state to campaign for him today, by the way. As a Twitter pal said this morning, given his polling surge and her dismal performance as VP, it’s not clear if she’s supposed to be boosting him or if he’s supposed to be boosting her.