The tide of likely voter preferences in this year’s gubernatorial recall election has turned.
The latest Berkeley IGS Poll, completed earlier this week among a sample of nearly 10,000 registered voters across California, finds just 38.5% of those most likely to participate in the recall election now intending to vote Yes to recall Governor Gavin Newsom, while 60.1% say they will be voting No to support his retention. This compares to a much closer 47% Yes – 50% No division of likely voter preferences found by the poll just six weeks ago.
Click here to see the entire poll, graphics and methodology.
“The findings underscore a significant change in tempo in the state, as decidedly more Californians are attending to the pending election, and are intent on voting No.” — G. Christina Mora
Nearly four in ten of the likely voters said they had already voted at the time the latest poll was conducted and these early voters are giving Newsom a substantial lead, and are voting against the recall more than two to one. One bright spot for recall supporters is that large majorities of voters who are voting in person either prior to Election Day or on Election Day are voting Yes in support of Newsom’s recall. However, their numbers do not appear to be anywhere near enough to change the outcome in their favor.
IGS Co-Director, G. Cristina Mora notes that “the findings underscore a significant change in tempo in the state, as decidedly more Californians are attending to the pending election, and are intent on voting No.”
The poll also finds that Republican broadcaster Larry Elder has opened up a large lead in the replacement election should the Governor be recalled. Greater than one in three of voters who say they will be casting a ballot in the replacement election (38%) are supporting his candidacy, up from 18% in late July. Elder’s next closest rival is now Democrat Kevin Paffrath at 10%. Support for Elder’s other Republican opponents has receded, with Kevin Faulconer at 8%, and John Cox and Kevin Kiley both at 4%. The poll finds 16% of voters undecided and another 20% scattering their preferences among the other 41 candidates.
One unique twist in this year’s election is that nearly a third of likely voters (31%) say they will be taking a pass on voting in the replacement election, by leaving that part of the ballot blank. This increases to 48% among the state’s likely Democratic voters.
Nearly four in ten of those participating in the poll (39%) had already voted at the time the survey was conducted
Wide differences in preferences by voting method
There are wide differences in voter preferences depending on how voters in the recall election will be casting their ballots. Those voting by mail, who the poll estimates will account for about half of the electorate, are lining up against the recall greater than two to one (30% Yes vs. 69% No). In addition, nearly as many of those who say they will be dropping off their ballots at an official location or drop box are also voting No. By contrast, large majorities of voters who say they will be voting in person either prior to Election Day (67%) or on Election Day (77%) say they’ll be voting Yes to recall the Governor.
Nearly four in ten of those participating in the poll (39%) had already voted at the time the survey was conducted. These voters are giving Newsom a very large early lead, by supporting his retention 70% to 30%. While the preferences of those voters who hadn’t yet cast their ballot is somewhat closer, they too are inclined to vote No 54% to 44%.
Broad support for retaining Newsom across most major demographic subgroups
The latest poll finds that preferences in the recall election remain first and foremost partisan and ideologically based. Greater than nine in ten Democrats and liberals are voting No, while similarly large majorities of Republicans and strong conservatives are voting Yes. Preferences are also highly correlated with vote choices in the 2020 presidential election, with 94% of Joe Biden’s supporters opposing Newsom’s recall, and 96% of those voting for Donald Trump supporting the recall.
In late July the Berkeley IGS Poll found that just 58% of the state’s registered Democrats expressed high interest in voting in the election, compared to 87% among Republicans.
The poll also finds that greater than six in ten No Party Preference voters and a similar proportion of political moderates are intending to vote No on the recall.
Voters of color are now firmly in the No camp, with 67% of Latino voters, 70% of Asian Americans, and 73% of African Americans intending to vote No. The preferences of whites in the latest poll divide 56% No and 43% Yes.
There continue to be significant variations in voting preferences across different regions of the state. Voters in Los Angeles County and San Francisco Bay region, who comprise the backbone of the state’s Democratic Party, are decidedly on the No side, opposing it by margins of two or three to one. By contrast, half or more of voters in the San Joaquin Valley, the Inland Empire, and the sparsely populated North Coast/Sierras region are voting Yes.
Big increase in voting interest among the state’s Democrats since late July
One of the main reasons that polls conducted in the late summer, including the one completed by the Berkeley IGS Poll, showed the recall election to be closer than it is today is that at the time the state’s Democratic voters did not appear to be very engaged in the election. For example, in late July the Berkeley IGS Poll found that just 58% of the state’s registered Democrats expressed high interest in voting in the election, compared to 87% among Republicans. This large partisan gap in expressed interest in voting in the recall election had the effect of reducing by more than half the huge 22-point advantage that Democrats hold over Republicans among all registered voters to a narrower 9-point advantage among likely voters.
Now, eight in ten of the state’s registered Democrats are reporting a high level of interest in voting or had already voted. This narrows considerably the gap in voting interest between the two parties and restores a large Democratic advantage over the state’s GOP among those most likely to vote (18 points).
Nearly a third of those likely to vote in the election (31%) say they intend to leave the replacement election ballot blank.
Nearly a third of those voting in the recall election say they’ll pass on voting in the replacement election
The state’s recall election ballot asks voters to weigh in on two questions. The first asks whether Newsom should be recalled, while the second asks all voters, including those who are intending to vote No, who they would choose to replace the Governor should he be recalled.
Yet, the poll finds that nearly a third of those likely to vote in the election (31%) say they intend to leave the replacement election ballot blank, and this includes nearly half (48%) of the Democrats. Nearly all of those planning to vote Yes on the recall state that they would vote for a replacement candidate.
Voters who had already voted and said they left the replacement election ballot blank were asked their main reasons for doing so. Two answers are given more than all others – “I didn’t feel comfortable supporting any of the candidates” (43%) and “I felt it would be detrimental to Newsom if I voted for someone to replace him” (41%).
Elder has opened up a big lead among those voting in the replacement election
Voters in this survey were presented with the entire list of 46 candidates running in the replacement election, along with their party affiliation and official job title, and asked their voting preference.
Elder derives his greatest support from Republicans, strong conservatives and those who voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election
Of those intending to vote in the replacement election 38% choose Elder, up from 18% in late July. Elder’s closest challenger is now Democrat Paffrath, at 10%. Vote support for Elder’s main Republican rivals has faltered, with Faulconer receiving 8%, Cox 4%, and Kiley 4%. The proportion of likely voters who are undecided has declined to 16%, while 20% scatter their votes among the other 41 candidates or say they will cast a write-in vote.
Elder leads among voters regardless of voting method, although by far his strongest base of support comes from voters intending to vote in person on Election Day. Among these voters, two in three (68%) are intending to vote for Elder. Elder also holds a sizable lead among voters who intend to vote in person prior to Election Day. He also leads among those who had already voted at the time the poll was conducted as well as among those who had not yet voted.
Elder’s support among replacement election voters is broad based
While Elder’s support among replacement election voters is broad based, he derives his greatest support from Republicans, strong conservatives and those who voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. About seven in ten voters in each of these subgroups are backing Elder’s candidacy.
Elder also is the preferred replacement candidate among voters intending to cast a ballot in the replacement election across all major regions of the state, although his support is greatest among voters in the San Joaquin Valley (52%), the Inland Empire (51%), Orange County (47%) and the North Coast/Sierras region (45%).
Most of the 16% of voters who remain undecided are Democrats, liberals, and Biden voters in the 2020 presidential election.
Elder also receives somewhat greater support among men than women, among whites than voters of color and among voters over age 40 than those under age 40.
Paffrath’s support comes primarily from the Democrats and liberals intending to cast a ballot in the replacement election, although large proportions are scattering their preferences across a wide range of other candidates.
Most of the 16% of voters who remain undecided are Democrats, liberals, and Biden voters in the 2020 presidential election, who appear to be having a harder time deciding whom to support in the replacement election.
Voter reactions to statements made about this year’s recall election
Voters in the survey were also read a number of statements about this year’s recall election and asked whether they agreed or disagree with each one.
The statement receiving the broadest agreement among the statewide electorate is the following: “If a conservative Republican were to become governor as a result of the recall election, it would threaten many of the state’s well-established policies on issues like climate change, immigration, health care and abortion.”
About two in three likely voters (65%) agree with this statement, while just 30% disagree. Those voting No in the recall election overwhelmingly concur 91% to 5%, while among Yes voters 25% agree and 69% disagree.
Majorities of the state’s likely electorate also agreed with four other statements made about the recall election. These included:
• “The cost of holding the recall election is a waste of taxpayer money.” (All voters: 61% agree vs. 36% disagree; Yes voters: 9% agree vs. 85% disagree; No voters: 94% vs. 4% disagree).
• “Through his own actions, Newsom has demonstrated that the strict policies and behaviors that he wants others to follow during the pandemic don’t apply to him.” (All voters: 56% agree vs. 35% disagree; Yes voters: 95% agree vs. 3% disagree; No voters: 31% agree vs. 56% disagree).
Newsom is now receiving more positive than negative job marks from voters most likely to participate in the election.
• “The recall election is undemocratic because with so many people running, if Newsom is recalled, a new governor could be elected with only a small share of the total vote.” (All voters: 56% agree vs. 33% disagree; Yes voters: 16% agree vs. 71% disagree; No voters: 83% agree vs. 9% disagree).
• “The recall election is another attempt by the Republican Party to steal elections from Democratic officeholders.” (All voters: 54% agree vs. 41% disagree; Yes voters: 3% agree vs. 92% disagree; No voters: 87% agree vs. 8% disagree).
On the other hand, fewer likely voters concurred with four other statements that proponents of the Governor’s recall have made about the recall election. They included:
• “Newsom should be recalled because he has failed to adequately address many of the state’s most pressing problems, like homelessness, crime, wildfires and the drought.” (All voters: 41% agree vs. 54% disagree; Yes voters: 96% agree vs. 2% disagree; No voters: 6% agree vs. 88% disagree).
• “Newsom should be recalled because his administration has grossly mismanaged the state’s unemployment insurance fund costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars.” (All voters: 38% agree vs. 49% disagree; Yes voters: 90% agree vs. 3% disagree; No voters: 5% agree vs. 80% disagree).
• “California needs a Republican governor to push back against the state Democratic Party’s recent tilt to an increasingly progressive agenda.” (All voters: 36% agree vs. 59% disagree; Yes voters: 86% agree vs. 8% disagree; No voters: 4% agree vs. 92% disagree).
• “Newsom should be recalled because he has greatly overstepped his authority as governor in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.” (All voters: 36% agree vs. 60% disagree; Yes voters: 90% agree vs. 8% disagree; No voters: 2% agree vs. 94% disagree).
Another indication that Governor Newsom appears to be weathering the recall election storm is that he is now receiving more positive than negative job marks from voters most likely to participate in the election. The latest poll finds 54% of likely recall election voters now approving of the Governor’s job performance overall, while 43% disapprove.
Opinions about the job Newsom is doing as governor are directly tied to a voter’s party affiliation and political ideology, with Democrats and liberals offering highly positive assessments and Republicans and conservatives holding very negative opinions.
Newsom’s job ratings are more negative than positive among voters in the San Joaquin Valley, Orange County, the Inland Empire, the Sacramento/North Valley region, and the sparsely populated North Coast/Sierras region.
Newsom’s job marks tend to be higher among women than men, and among voters of color than white voters. Newsom also receives higher job marks from seniors 65 or older than from voters under age 30. Yet, more voters in each of these demographic subgroups approve than disapprove of the Governor’s overall performance.
There is significant variation in assessments of Newsom’s performance as governor across voters in different regions of the state. Greater than six in ten of likely voters in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County approve of the Governor’s overall performance.
By contrast, Newsom’s job ratings are more negative than positive among voters in the San Joaquin Valley, Orange County, the Inland Empire, the Sacramento/North Valley region, and the sparsely populated North Coast/Sierras region.
Another correlate to evaluations of Newsom’s overall performance as governor relates to voters’ assessments of the approach that he and state government have taken in reacting to the pandemic and the outbreak of new variants of the Covid-19 virus. The survey finds that 49% of likely voters consider the actions taken by state government about the pandemic have been “about right,” 18% feel state government is doing “too little” in its efforts to contain the virus, while 33% feel it is doing “too much.”
Of those who feel state government actions on the pandemic have been about right, 82% approve of Newsom’s job performance overall, as do 60% of those who think the state is doing too little to contain the virus. By contrast, Newsom’s approval rating performance among voters who feel state government actions have been heavy handed and that it is doing too much in reacting to the pandemic is just 9%.
Editor’s Note: The poll, cosponsored by the Los Angeles Times and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, was administered online in English and Spanish Aug. 30 – Sept. 6, 2021, among a stratified random sample of 9,809 registered voters across California, of whom a weighted subset of 6,550 were considered likely to vote in the recall election. It is likely that findings based on the overall sample of registered voters are subject to a sampling error of approximately plus- or-minus 1.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, while findings from the sample of likely voters have an estimated sampling error of plus-or-minus 2 percentage points.