OAKLAND — California’s rebound from the Covid-19 crisis is complicating the drive to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, with a strong majority of state voters now approving of his pandemic management and just 40 percent saying they would remove him, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows.
Californians have growing optimism about the state’s recovery as infection rates decline and a larger share of the state becomes fully vaccinated while a wider array of businesses open. A whopping 90 percent of likely voters said they overwhelmingly believe the worst of the crisis is behind the state, greater than the 74 percent who said that in March.
The Democratic governor now enjoys majority approval of his job performance — 54 percent of all likely voters — with a more robust 64 percent supporting his handling of the pandemic, the poll showed.
“Everything is pointing in the direction of much more optimism about Covid and the economy and California,’’ said PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare in an interview. “And this is the context in which now the 2021 recall is set… Right now, people are feeling good about the economic prospects in the next 12 months — and overwhelmingly, they’re feeling good that the worst is behind us.”
The poll showed that if the recall election were held today, 57 percent of likely voters would vote no on recalling Newsom, while 40 percent would vote yes and only 3 percent said they didn’t know.
PPIC did not survey respondents about different candidates who have said they will run on the replacement ballot that would come into play if voters decide to recall the governor.
With the “remarkably stable” backing for the recall unchanged from March, Baldassare said the matter remains highly divided along partisan lines. The drive to oust Newsom is backed by 78 percent of Republicans, compared to 47 percent of independents and 11 percent of Democrats.
The strong breakdown “reflects the state’s hyper-partisanship,” Baldassare said. With Democrats holding a 46-24 percent registration advantage over Republicans, he added that “supporters of a recall have their work cut out for them.”
That said, Republicans are far more interested in the recall than Democrats, according to a Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released earlier this month. That poll showed that 75 percent of Republicans had a high interest in the recall, more than double the share of Democrats and independents who said the same. Democrats may have to work harder to turn out their voters in a special election, though they have the benefit of having passed a law requiring counties to send all voters a mail ballot again this year.
The recall has its highest support in the more conservative, inland regions, including the Inland Empire (56 percent in favor) and the Central Valley (49 percent), and the least support in coastal areas, including Orange County and San Diego (42 percent), as well as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, which are both at 32 percent.
Among other major findings:
— Californians overwhelmingly approve of Newsom’s two budget proposals to use the state’s massive surplus on financial assistance for middle- and lower-income residents. Seventy percent of adults — and two-thirds of likely voters — approve of providing Californians with another round of $600 stimulus checks for those making under $75,000 and an additional $500 for those with children. Overwhelming majorities across party lines — 81 percent overall and 77 percent of likely voters — back his plan to assist Californians slammed by Covid with funds to pay overdue rent and utility bills.
— On vaccine distribution, 3 in 4 Californians now say the state is doing an excellent (26 percent) or good (49 percent) job, with about 1 in 4 rating it as a fair (17 percent) or poor job (6 percent). The combined excellent/good ratings have increased 39 points since January, when the state faced sharp criticism for its rollout.
— Concerns about getting Covid or being hospitalized have plummeted, with just 19 percent expressing that worry, compared to 56 percent a year ago. The optimism is reflected in state residents’ outlook for the future, with 56 percent of likely voters rating their financial situation as excellent or good today, while 51 percent expect good times for the U.S. economy in the next 12 months.
Baldassare said the findings underscore how Newsom is in a far different situation than former Gov. Gray Davis, who in 2003 became the only governor in California history to be recalled.
In PPIC’s August 2003 survey, 47 percent of likely voters said that things would get better if Davis were removed from office, while 17 percent said that things would get worse. But today, just 29 percent said that things would get better if Newsom were recalled, while 34 percent said things would get worse — and 28 percent said it would make no difference.
At this point in 2003, Davis also had far worse approval ratings. PPIC’s June 2003 poll showed that 75 percent of likely voters disapproved of Davis, including 56 percent of Democrats.
The findings show that “right now, the majority of California likely voters are not in the mood to alter the status quo,” he said.
The poll of 1,705 Californians was conducted from May 9–18, 2021, and has a margin of error of 3.3 percent overall and 3.6 percent for the likely voter sample of 1,074 respondents.