By David M. Greenwald
A poll yesterday from Berkeley’s IGS (Institute of Governmental Studies) gave Governor Newsom a huge lead, with 60 percent of likely voters planning to vote against a recall—that is starting to look like the percentage that originally voted for him.
That poll looks less like an anomaly than the continuation of trend. In the last nine polls, only one has the recall failing by less than 10 points—and that was a poll taken August 26 and had it at Keep +8.
FiveThirtyEight.com’s tracker pretty much tells the story here. All of a sudden, around August 3, the polls were a dead heat and remained so until about August 10. By their metric as of yesterday, the polling average showed it Keep 56 to Remove 41.6.
The same IGS poll showed Larry Elder with 38 percent of the vote—overall Elder is averaging about 27.6, or a 20 point advantage, over his next closest competitor.
Those two numbers are not unrelated.
What’s going on here? The first thing is that looking at the head to head in a single poll is kind of like looking at a baseball player’s batting average. It tells you something, but we know a lot more these days than simple summary statistics.
The first thing to look at is the partisan split. Even in August, the partisan split showed nothing that Newsom should have been alarmed about. He had strong support among Democrats and a relatively evenly split among independents. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a whopping +23, that should not have been a cause for concern.
The only way that this was going turn against Newsom, as long as he had Democrats supporting him, was if the Democrats stayed home.
But that’s what was happening in August. Republicans were motivated to come out and boot Newsom, and Democrats were more concerned about other things.
Enter Larry Elder.
The poll on Friday found that Democrats were now engaged—with 8 in 10 reporting that they were very interested in voting. An article earlier this week that looked at who had voted found that, while the numbers weren’t quite what they were in November, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a two to one margin so far.
Something else to note: the IGS poll found that, overall, 54% of the likely voters approve of Newsom’s performance to only 43% disapproving. Those don’t look like numbers of an electorate that was about to fire Newsom. Gray Davis, by contrast, was in the low 30s when he was booted.
What changed? My sense has been when Larry Elder became the frontrunner, he started gaining a lot of press attention. The press attention helped him with Republicans and, in a field where Democrats have abdicated the replacement race, that has helped him there.
But it gave Newsom a target. He had a lot of money. And he basically used Larry Elder as his foil—and more importantly as a means to scare the Democrats into getting off their duff and coming out to vote.
The Mercury News reports that “analysts say that while Elder is popular with some conservatives, his rise in the polls may actually be helping drive turnout among Democrats who oppose many of his strident viewpoints.”
Indeed, “Newsom’s campaign is stressing Elder’s pro-gun, anti-abortion views, noting he wants to eliminate everything from COVID-19 mask mandates to the minimum wage.”
When this is over, I hope our legislature looks long and hard at ways to improve on the recall process.
First, like most, the threshold is too low.
While from a practical manner, there is no way to mandate that recall be more than just about partisan politics or unpopularity, it’s clear that anyone with the resources and a block of voters with hatred for a governor could mobilize to force a recall vote.
Even in a state where the governor is relatively popular, any time there is a solid bloc of 30%, a recall could be induced.
In the Mercury News article, Anne Dunsmore, campaign manager for the pro-recall group Rescue California, basically said the recall sends “a message to Democrats.
“This is just the battle. It’s not the end of the war,” she said. “We’ve made our point.”
But the message I think it sends to Democrats is not that Republicans can realistically challenge Democrats statewide, it’s that there is a loophole in the system that allows havoc to be reaped.
Second, I have a big problem with having the second question on the same ballot.
Some have suggested that recall should be like an impeachment, and that would mean the Lt. Governor would take over if the Governor is recalled.
Personally, I would prefer a separate election, where candidates can announce having already known that the governor is recalled, rather than the current system which does them concurrently.
More expensive to do it that way. But fairer. In 2003, Cruz Bustamante put himself on the ballot but had a tough row to hoe as he had to thread the line between calling for no on the recall, but vote for me. It puts the party in power in a difficult bind. This time they chose to sit it out.
From an electoral standpoint that seems to be the better strategy. That allowed Newsom to focus on Larry Elder. A strong Democrat might have lessened that message.
The dual question recall probably helped Republicans in 2003 when it was Arnold Schwarzenegger on the ballot, but hurt them this time with Larry Elder.
My recommendation would be a higher threshold to get a recall on the ballot and a separate election for the replacement.