California poll finds Gov. Newsom recall falling short with 14 days left

A new poll Wednesday shows support for recalling California Gov. Gavin Newsom remains well short of the majority needed to oust him with just two weeks before Election Day, and indicates Democratic voters whose turnout is key to his survival are paying attention.

The poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found just 39% of 1,080 likely California voters would vote to recall Newsom, effectively unchanged from the 40% of those surveyed in May and in March, with 58% opposed. And nearly half said they either wouldn’t vote for — or were undecided on — the 46 candidates on the ballot hoping to replace him.

“In a clear sign of our hyper-partisan times, Democrats and Republicans are not only deeply divided on these issues but have also shown little change over time in their respective views of Newsom’s leadership,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Though most polls have found more opposition than support for the recall, several have indicated a closer contest. A Trafalgar Group poll Aug. 26-29 of 1,088 likely ballot casters found 44.4% would vote yes and 52% no on the recall. A SurveyUSA poll Aug. 26-28 of 816 likely and actual voters found 43% would recall Newsom and 51% would keep him in office. A CBS News YouGov poll Aug. 6-12 of 1,534 likely voters found 48% would remove Newsom and 52% would keep him.

Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution research fellow who was a consultant for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican winner of the last recall election that ousted Democrat Gray Davis in 2003, said the findings reflect the Democrats’ party registration advantage and the lack of a captivating challenger.

California party registration is about 46% Democrat, 24% Republican and 23% with no party preference, giving Democrats an automatic 22-point advantage going into an election, Whalen said. By contrast, he said, in 2003, the split was 43% Democrat and 35% Republican, an 8-point gap.

“If you have more Republicans turn out, you can close that gap, but at 22 points, you have to have an incredibly motivated Republican base and a dispassionate Democratic base,” Whalen said.

Anne Hyde Dunsmore, campaign manager for Rescue California-Recall Gavin Newsom, was skeptical of the poll and questioned its methodology.

“What we’re seeing is a high level of enthusiasm for the recall that’s not in line with these numbers,” Dunsmore said. “We’re cautiously optimistic. But we haven’t gotten here by being optimistic. We got here with people telling us it couldn’t be done.”

Whalen said this year’s recall effort is further hampered by what he called a lack of the “Arnold factor” — the charismatic star of action film classics like The Terminator who instantly captivated voters and the press.

The PPIC poll found that of those vying to replace Newsom if he’s recalled, only Republican radio host Larry Elder found double-digit support, with 26% of likely voters saying they’d vote for him. Just 5% said they’d vote for Republican former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and 3% each for Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, and GOP businessman John Cox, whom Newsom crushed in a 2018 landslide.

Just 1% said they’d vote for Republican reality TV star and transgender advocate Caitlyn Jenner, while 25% said they wouldn’t vote for any of the replacement candidates on the ballot and 24% didn’t know who they would vote for.

The poll found three out of four Democrats say the recall election is very important to them, compared with two out of three Republicans and independent voters.

“The only way Newsom loses is if Democrats don’t turn out in numbers and Republicans do turn out in force,” Whalen said.

Newsom also enjoys considerable financial advantages, having raised nearly $50 million, about twice the combined totals for the recall backers and replacement candidates. He’s been putting that cash to work, with ads featuring national Democratic figures like senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, linking the recall to supporters of former GOP President Donald Trump, who lost California two to one in 2020.

By contrast, Whalen said, “you just don’t see the opposition on television making their case.”

The PPIC poll, in a larger sample of 1,706 California adults, found 47% think the state is heading in the right direction and 43% in the wrong direction, and listed the most important issues as COVID-19 (21%), jobs and the economy (12%) and homelessness (11%). It found 53% approve of Newsom’s job performance and 39% disapprove.

Newsom on Tuesday sounded optimistic.

“We’re going to bring this home, we’re working hard,” Newsom said. “People are very active, very participatory in this election, and we’re seeing that gap in terms of knowledge of what is at stake close very rapidly.”

The PPIC poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points for all California adults and 4.5 points for likely voters. How accurate have PPIC polls been in the past? In its September 2003 survey, 53% said they would vote recall Davis and just 26% approved of his job performance, Baldassare said. The result: 55% voted to remove Davis.

But Baldassare also noted that more Republicans (54%) and independents (53%) than Democrats (40%) said they were enthusiastic about voting in the election. In a special election, he said, that could lead to “a real possibility of a political upset.”

Linda and Don Smith, who founded a Democratic Party activist club in Brentwood, fear a repeat of the 2016 election in which underdog Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton. Whenever the Smiths are at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings an anti-recall table, they usually get a few people shouting, “Let’s get rid of him!”

“We can’t sit back,” said Linda Smith, a retired tech consultant, “even in a blue state.”

Staff writer Julia Prodis-Sulek contributed to this story. 

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Author: John Woolfolk

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