Despite being in a D+30 state, Governor Gavin Newsom is no stranger to the criticism of California Republicans. In less than three years, he has faced five unsuccessful recall attempts. The sixth recall attempt, fueled mainly by Newsom’s pandemic restrictions (and him breaking them at a French Laundry dinner party in November) in addition to the usual partisan talking points, looks likely to succeed.
The petition has already garnered over 1.5 million signatures, above the threshold needed to trigger a recall election. Sometime during the fall of 2021, California will face its second recall election in 18 years. On the ballot, voters will be asked two simple questions: “Should Gavin Newsom be recalled?” Those who answer yes will pick from a list that could be very long; for example, 135 candidates were on the 2003 California recall ballot, and ultimately Arnold Schwarzenegger won.
Though California Republicans have the signatures needed, the fact that the recall election will likely happen doesn’t correlate to its popularity. For a recall election to go through, “signatures must equal a percentage of the total number of votes most recently cast for the targeted office”—12% of the votes in the 2018 gubernatorial election. In other words, the 1.6 million signatures on the recall petition only represent 12% of the voters of California’s 2018 election; just 6% of California’s registered voters (22 million) and roughly 30% of registered Republicans (roughly 5 million).
Californians overwhelmingly favor Democratic policies over Republican ones.
From here, the efforts to replace Newsom only get harder. According to an April poll conducted by the UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies, just 36% of 10,289 registered voters want Newsom recalled, while 49% do not (the final 15% are undecided). That margin will most likely continue to grow as the pandemic winds down.
While Newsom’s popularity floundered earlier on in the year, his approval ratings have stabilized at 52%. The governor now finds himself with a massive $76 billion budget surplus and has already announced tax rebate checks for over two-thirds of Californians.
Sure, Newsom is far from a perfect governor and California has its fair share of issues (homelessness, housing costs), but it is a fact that Californians overwhelmingly favor Democratic policies over Republican ones. For the California Democratic Party, it is all about throwing unilateral support behind Newsom and ensure that there will not be a significant split vote among multiple Democratic candidates on the replacement list.
It must be emphasized that Republicans are attempting to unseat a Democratic governor in a deep blue state. Sure, Schwarzenegger won the last one, but California (and the country) is much more partisan than it was 18 years ago. Even Democrats dissatisfied with Newsom are far more likely to vote for him over a Republican due to his party affiliation (provided that there are no prominent Democrats on the ballot, of course).
Furthermore, the Republican field so far has been relatively uninspiring with no clear frontrunner: it is mostly former gubernatorial candidates and representatives. The notable include John Cox—back for another try after his landslide loss to Newsom in 2018—Kevin Faulconer—former mayor of San Diego — and Caitlyn Jenner, who has easily received the most attention from the media following her announcement.
The career politicians have mostly proposed conservative policies that will likely never reach the governor’s office in the Golden State, while Jenner has been all talk, no solutions, and unable to capitalize on her celebrity status. The same Berkeley poll found that just 6% of those polled would support Jenner replacing Newsom.
As it stands, Newsom will most likely survive the recall. For the Republicans, their best chance would be hoping something happens in the next five months or so that hurts Newsom, place their unilateral support behind one candidate (a split Republican vote is even worse than a split Democratic vote where conservatives are already a minority), and somehow find a way to draw in Democratic voters.