The strategy Gavin Newsom and his supporters have adopted for defeating a likely recall election this fall has been to make it out as a partisan Republican exercise by the usual Republican suspects in a heavily Democratic state: a sort of postelection coup like the one Donald Trump attempted in January. That it may be succeeding even before the expected validation of recall-petition signatures is illustrated by a new survey from the highly regarded Public Policy Institute of California:
If a special election to recall Governor Newsom were held today, 40 percent of likely voters say they would vote yes on removing Newsom, while 56 percent would vote no and 5 percent are unsure. Views break along party lines: Republicans (79%) are far more likely than independents (42%) and Democrats (15%) to say they would vote yes …
Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, [notes:] “The share who would now vote to remove the governor is similar to the 38 percent who did not vote for Newsom in the fall of 2018.”
That’s right: For all the talk of Californians being sick of Newsom, the percentage actually willing to take advantage of the opportunity to kick him to the curb is basically the same as the percentage who voted for his Republican opponent John Cox in 2018. For that matter, Newsom’s job-approval rating, according to the PPIC, is still in the positive range, at 53 percent of likely voters: “This is similar to the share approving in February 2020, before the governor issued COVID-19 stay-at-home orders (53% adults, 52% likely voters).” So despite the general perception that Newsom’s handling of the pandemic has put him in deep peril, he is about where he was before COVID-19 struck in terms of popularity.
It’s early days for the recall effort, obviously; once the petitions are fully validated, the actual recall election will probably be called for November. But barring a major recurrence of COVID-19 followed by a California lockdown that is as controversial as it was the first time around, every day takes the governor further away from the incidents that fed anger at him. Presumably, he learned something from the unpopularity of school closures and certain small-business restrictions. And it’s extremely unlikely he will attend another unmasked birthday party for a donor at an ultraexclusive restaurant if a lockdown does return.
Assuming the pandemic is near its end, Newsom should benefit from a healthy revenue forecast, from Joe Biden’s stimulus package, and from California’s own stimulus assistance plan the governor signed last month. Republicans opposed both Biden and Newsom’s plans. But then that’s partly why they are a decided minority of Californians who aren’t likely to win the governorship this year or next.