With tomorrow’s recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom looming in the background, Californians in the latest Berkeley IGS Poll were asked their opinions about continuing to have the right to recall state elected officials like the governor as part of the state constitution. The survey also obtained reactions to five possible reform proposals.
By a resounding three-to-one margin (75% to 24%) voters describe the recall provision as a good thing. This view is held by majorities of all political stripes, although Democrats and liberals express somewhat greater reticence, with greater than one in three viewing it as a bad thing.
Yet, the poll also shows support for several reforms to the way the recall process works. Receiving the broadest support is one that calls for changing the rules governing replacement elections so that if no candidate receives a majority of the vote, and the officeholder is voted out of office, a runoff election should be held between the top two vote getters. This reform is favored 69% to 21% among all voters, including 75% of Democrats, 64% of No Party Preference voters and 41% of Republicans.
Three other reform proposals receive majority backing from the electorate, although views about each is much more partisan and ideologically based, with large majorities of Democrats and liberals in favor and large majorities of Republicans and strong conservatives opposed. These include:
–Toughening the rules that apply to recalling state elected officials, so that officeholders can only be recalled for cause, such as when an officeholder is found to have carried out illegal or unethical conduct (59% favor vs. 29% opposed).
–Increasing the number of signatures required for a recall election to qualify for the ballot from 12% of the total votes cast in the last statewide election to 25% (55% to 30%).
–Making it more difficult for candidates to run in a gubernatorial replacement election by requiring them to meet a higher threshold than the current $4,000 filing fee and the 7,000 voter-signature threshold that is now in place (51% to 32%).
Observed IGS co-Director Eric Schickler, “The results show that at the time of the Newsom recall, most voters, including a majority of Democrats, support recall elections in principle, but also favor reforms that would impose somewhat higher hurdles in bringing future recall elections to the ballot.”
Three in four support maintaining the recall provision as part of the state constitution
There is strong support among California registered voters for maintaining a way to recall state elected officials, like the governor, as part of the state constitution. Three in four voters (75%) describe having this provision as part of the California constitution as being a good thing, while just 24% think it is a bad thing.
Support for maintaining the recall includes large majorities across voters of all parties, ideologies, and demographic subgroups. However, among Democrats and liberals greater than one in three describe the recall provision as a bad thing.
Majorities of voters support several reforms to the recall process
Voters in this survey were presented with five proposals aimed at reforming the state’s recall election process and asked whether they favored or opposed each one. The results indicate that majorities back a number of these proposals.
The recall reform that receives the broadest support is one that calls for changing the rules governing replacement elections such that if none of the replacement candidates receives a majority and the officeholder facing recall is voted out of office, a runoff election should be held between the top two vote getters.
This proposal is favored greater than three to one (69% to 21%) among the overall electorate, and receives the support of 75% of Democrats, 64% of No Party Preference voters and 41% of Republicans. Voters who say they are strongly conservative in politics are the most resistant to making this change, opposing it by a 50% to 32% margin.
Three other reform proposals win majority backing from the state’s overall electorate, although views about each is highly partisan and ideologically based, with large majorities of Democrats and liberals in favor, while Republicans and strong conservatives are opposed.
By a greater than two to one margin (59% to 29%) voters favor toughening the rules that apply to recalling state elected officials, so that officeholders can only be recalled for cause, such as when an officeholder is found to have carried out illegal or unethical conduct. Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of this idea, 78% to 12%, but Republicans are opposed more than two to one (29% in favor vs. 61% opposed).
A 55% majority also supports the idea of increasing the number of signatures required for a recall election to qualify for the ballot from the current 12 percent threshold of votes cast in the last statewide election to 25 percent. Democrats are again very one-sided in their support (77% to 10%), while Republican voters are very much opposed, 18% to 70%.
About half of the electorate (51%) backs the idea of making it more difficult for candidates to run in a gubernatorial replacement election by requiring them to meet a higher threshold than the current $4,000 filing fee and the 7,000 voter-signature thresholds now in place. About one in three voters statewide (32%) are opposed and 17% are undecided. Democrats favor the idea more than three to one (65% to 18%), while Republicans are opposed 31% to 54%.
Opinions about a fifth reform proposal are somewhat more divided. This relates to the idea of allowing officeholders who are facing recall to also be included among the candidates in the replacement election. Among all voters 42% favor this idea, 35% are opposed and 23% are undecided. Opinions again divide voters along party and ideological lines, with Democrats and liberals in favor and Republicans and conservatives opposed.
Editor’s Note: The findings in this report are based on a Berkeley IGS Poll completed by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at the University of California, Berkeley. Funding for the poll was provided in part by the Los Angeles Times. The poll was administered online in English and Spanish Aug. 30 – Sept. 6, 2021, among 9,809 registered voters across California.