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(Spoiler alert—the July PPIC Statewide Survey does not include questions on removing the governor or supporting any of the replacement candidates. At the time the survey was conducted, the candidate list had not yet been finalized by the California Secretary of State, and a state court ruled that Governor Newsom could not be identified as a Democrat on the ballot. This post is about the election context, with a focus on voters’ continuing positive views of Governor Newsom and their generally negative attitudes about the recall process.)

Governor Newsom remains in a strong position to survive the September 14 recall election. In our latest reading of the political tea leaves, the July PPIC survey finds 56% of California likely voters approving of his handling of jobs and the economy, and 59% approve of his handling of environmental issues. Governor Newsom’s approval ratings for handling specific issues and his overall job approval have been consistently in positive territory throughout this year. Reflecting the impact of hyper-partisanship, Democrats and Republicans have widely varying views of their governor—giving Newsom the numerical advantage in this deep blue state.

figure - Approval Ratings for Governor Newsom

What about the recall process itself? Our July survey finds that 86% of California likely voters say that it is a good thing that the California Constitution provides a way to recall the state’s elected officials, such as the governor. Californians are united in their support for the recall option across parties, regions, and demographic groups.

But attitudes toward the current recall effort tell a different story: 69% of California likely voters say that the special election to recall Governor Newsom is a waste of money. Voters are divided along party lines on this point, but not as divided as they were when asked about removing Newsom from office in the May PPIC survey.

figure - Views on the Cost of the Recall Election

What’s wrong with the recall, how should it be fixed, and how could these views impact voter turnout?

Despite strong approval of the recall option, it is noteworthy that two in three California likely voters say that the recall election process in California is in need of major or minor changes. Just one in three say that the recall process is basically fine the way it is. Majorities across regions of the state and demographic groups agree that change is needed to improve the recall process, while Democrats and Republicans are divided over how much change.

figure - Extent of Changes Needed to the Recall Election Process

One popular potential change: defining the basis for holding a recall. Currently, an elected official may be recalled for any—or no—reason. Sixty percent of California likely voters support raising the bar so that an elected official could only be recalled because of illegal or unethical activity. Majorities across regions and demographic groups support this change. While partisans are divided, four in ten Republicans support this reform. The level of support for this change is similar to the share who wanted to keep Newsom in office in the March and May PPIC surveys.

Another possible reform with majority support is raising the signature requirement to 25% of the total votes cast in the previous election for that office. Currently, this requirement is set at 12%; that was 900,000 for the 2003 recall election and 1.5 million for the 2021 governor’s recall. Fifty-five percent would support the higher signature requirement, with about half or more in favor across regions and demographic groups. Democrats and Republicans are also divided on this change. Would there be a recall election on September 14 if the signature minimum had been over 3 million?

The reform idea that receives the strongest endorsement? Holding a runoff election between the top two replacement candidates if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. On this issue, 68% are in favor, as are a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Solid majorities across regions and demographic groups want this change. In the 2003 recall election, when 55% voted to remove Gray Davis, 49% voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace him. This was on a ballot that included 135 candidates. If a majority vote to remove Newsom in September, one of the 46 replacement candidates would become the next governor—even if their supporters made up only a tiny sliver of all ballots cast on September 14.

Other reform ideas have been floated, such as changing the minimum signature requirements for becoming a replacement candidate, adding the lieutenant governor to the replacement ballot, and having recalls decided in the next regularly scheduled general election. In the end, any meaningful improvements in the recall process would require changing the California Constitution. After the September 14 election, creating a bipartisan commission that offers policy recommendations for California voters to consider on the November 2022 statewide ballot would be a worthwhile endeavor.

With ballots for September’s election arriving in mailboxes soon, the political wildcard is the relatively low level of enthusiasm for voting in the recall among Newsom supporters. Negative views of the recall process and the perception that the recall is a waste of money could also depress turnout—and a low turnout could undermine the election’s legitimacy no matter who wins. Let’s hope that Californians will rise to the occasion and cast their ballots in a critical year for the future of democracy.

The decision to recall Governor Newsom is now officially in the hands of California’s voters. California’s lieutenant governor has declared that the recall election will be held on Tuesday, September 14. This sets the stage for a mad scramble by the campaigns to get out the vote and ensure that their political base will participate in this statewide special election. A key question in this effort: how enthusiastic is the electorate?

The March and the May PPIC surveys both found that 40% of California likely voters would vote yes on the recall of Governor Newsom—falling short of the majority needed to remove him from office. But elections are ultimately determined by the voters who actually cast their ballots. In those same March and May surveys, the likely voters who wanted to remove Governor Newsom were much more interested in the recall than those who wanted to keep him in office. If the governor’s supporters remain less engaged in the upcoming election, then the recall could end up being closer than the polls to date have indicated.

Our initial read on voter engagement is based on this PPIC survey question: “How closely are you following the news about the effort to recall Governor Newsom from office—very closely, fairly closely, not too closely, or not at all closely?” The results for California likely voters were similar in our March (20% very, 43% fairly) and May (21% very, 41% fairly) surveys. In total, about two in ten are “very closely” and four in ten are “fairly closely” watching the news about the governor’s recall. Notably, we did not see growing interest in the news about the recall election during the spring.

When we combine these nearly identical results from the March and May surveys, we see early and consistent signs of an enthusiasm gap that could help shape the outcome of this special election. First, we find a 15-point gap between those who want to remove Governor Newsom (27% very, 46% fairly) and those who want to keep him (17% very, 41% fairly) among the share of likely voters who are closely following the news about the recall effort. Second, given the role of partisanship in the recall effort, it is not surprising that there is a similar 15-point gap between Republican likely voters (26% very, 47% fairly) and Democratic likely voters (17% very, 41% fairly) when it comes to closely following the news about the recall.

figure - Likely Voters Who Support Removing Newsom Are More Engaged With Recall News

In a similar vein, there is a 10-point margin between the California likely voters who disapprove of Governor Newsom (25% very, 45% fairly) and those who approve of him (18% very, 42% fairly) when asked how closely they are following the news about the effort to recall the governor from office.

figure - Likely Voters Who Disapprove of Newsom Are More Engaged With Recall News

Regional and demographic differences among California likely voters are an important part of the evolving story. Across the regions, Central Valley likely voters (24% very, 45% fairly) are the most likely and San Francisco Bay Area likely voters (16% very, 43% fairly) are the least likely to say they are closely following the recall election news.  Across racial/ethnic groups, whites are the most likely (20% very, 47% fairly) and Asian Americans are the least likely (18% very, 29% fairly) to be closely following the news. In addition, the share who are closely following the recall election news rises as age, income, and homeownership increase. In total, these differences reflect partisanship and heightened interest among the state’s higher-propensity voters.

Both proponents and opponents of the recall effort face a relatively challenging environment, clearly evident if we compare this year to some past elections. About nine in ten California likely voters were closely following the November 2020 presidential election news last fall (53% very, 34% fairly in the September 2020 PPIC survey; 58% very, 34% fairly in the October 2020 PPIC survey). This was right before a general election with very high turnout (81% voters, 71% eligible adults). During the 2003 governor’s recall, about nine in ten California likely voters were following election news in the August 2003 PPIC survey (45% very, 44% fairly) and in the September 2003 PPIC survey (49% very, 43% fairly). This special election also garnered high turnout (61% voters, 43% eligible adults). Given the much higher rates of attention to election news in the past, potential exists for low turnout in this year’s recall.

Californians’ engagement in the governor’s recall has consequences beyond its political implications. Voters have been asked to weigh in on a policy change brought to the ballot box by fellow citizens. Whether voters making key ballot choices are representative of the state’s diverse population is an ongoing concern. This year, the state’s direct democracy system is facing one of the biggest tests in its 110-year history. Will large and diverse numbers of the state’s voters rise to the occasion and participate in the recall election? The answer is critical to California’s future.

In the midst of Governor Newsom introducing a historic budget—deemed the California Comeback Plan—just over half of Californians approve of the governor. Dean Bonner, PPIC associate survey director and research fellow, presented this and other findings from PPIC’s May statewide survey and discussed key takeaways with Mark Baldassare, president and CEO. Views on the recall election also mirror support for the governor, with 57% of likely voters preferring to keep Newsom in office if a recall election were held and 4 in 10 likely voters saying they would vote to remove him.

Bonner expressed surprise at how much views on critical issues around the state have changed over the last three months, and ran through the numbers: Newsom’s approval on handling COVID, up 11 points; the view that the state is in a recession, down 21 points; Californians expecting good times economically in the U.S., up 11 points; and belief that the worst of coronavirus is behind us, up 31 points since January. “This is setting the stage for how people are feeling about the recall,” Bonner said.

Baldassare noted how little attitudes had changed toward the recall election: 40% of likely voters wanted to remove the governor in May and 40% felt the same in March, similar to the 38% who didn’t vote for Newsom in 2018.

Today, a record low 36% view the state budget situation as a big problem. Offering perspective on that number, Bonner explained that a record high 81% viewed the budget as a big problem in May 2010 during the Great Recession, when Governor Schwarzenegger faced a $19.9 billion budget gap.

Amid optimism around the budget, however, jobs and the economy and COVID are still top-of-mind issues for Californians—although as the state emerges from the pandemic, COVID has fallen to second. “I think Californians will be looking over the next few months at what’s going on with our economy,” Baldassare said. “We have high unemployment—things are improving, but will they improve uniformly?”

While about half of Californians believe their finances are strong today, most recognize a gap is widening between rich and poor. “They are perceiving a growth in the amount of inequality in incomes between those who have decent economic resources and those who don’t,” Baldassare said, recognition that is occurring across regions. In the same vein, homelessness and housing costs remain a top concern as housing prices continue to rise along with the number of people experiencing homelessness in the state.

And most Californians agree the government should be doing more to help. “We’ve consistently found when there have been policies proposed to do things like another round of stimulus checks or rental and utility assistance, Californians are very supportive,” Bonner said.  “In fact, regarding rent and utility assistance, there’s even bipartisan agreement that this is something the state should be doing.”

As a recall of Governor Gavin Newsom looks ever more likely, proponents and replacement candidates face an uphill battle to reach the majority needed to remove him from office. The May PPIC survey finds that 40% of California likely voters say they would vote yes to remove Newsom as Governor if a special election were held today. This is unchanged from the 40% who said this in our March survey. While the state’s Democratic leanings drive much of the current opposition to the recall, voter expectations also play a critical role. And in 2021, the voters’ mood is very different from what it was in 2003, during the successful recall of Governor Gray Davis.

figure - Views on Removing Governor Newsom Remain Steady—and Divided

What do voters expect a recall to do? In 2003, many expected it to make things better. In our August 2003 survey, 47% of likely voters said that things would get better if Davis were removed from office, while 17% said that things would get worse. This trend was replicated in the September 2003 PPIC Survey—and in the October 7, 2003 recall election, 55% voted to remove Davis and 49% voted to replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Today, when asked what would happen if Governor Newsom were recalled, just 29% say that things would get better, while 34% say things would get worse—and 28% say it would make no difference. For a recall election to gain traction this time, many more voters need to believe that things would get better afterward. Nearly all who say that things would get better if Newsom were recalled would vote to remove him (90%) and nearly all who say that things would get worse would vote to keep him (95%). And those who say it would make no difference? Only 32% would vote to remove him, while 63% would vote to keep him in office.

figure - Will Things Get Better If Governor Newsom Is Recalled?

Moreover, replacement candidates face political headwinds as they try to convince the voters that they will offer a better future than Newsom. We continue to find that a majority of California likely voters approve of the way that Newsom is handling his job as governor (54% May PPIC Survey, 53% March PPIC Survey, 52% January PPIC Survey). The partisan breakdown of these ratings reflects the state’s hyper-partisanship: most Democrats approve and most Republicans disapprove, while many independents lean Democratic and approve of the governor. In this context, supporters of a recall have their work cut out for them.

Of course, this early reading on the 2021 governor’s recall is clearly impacted by the improving conditions of the COVID crisis and the economy. Governor Newsom is on a year-long streak of majority approval among likely voters for handling the pandemic (61% May PPIC Survey). Likely voters overwhelmingly believe that the worst of the crisis is behind us (90% May PPIC Survey, 46% May 2020 PPIC Survey) and that the state government is doing an excellent or good job with the vaccine distribution (70% May PPIC Survey, 28% January PPIC Survey). The percentage saying they are very or somewhat concerned about getting COVID and needing hospitalization has plummeted (19% May PPIC Survey, 56% May 2020 PPIC Survey). Meanwhile, 56% of likely voters rate their financial situation as excellent or good today, while 51% expect good times for the US economy in the next 12 months.

Still, timing is everything in politics, and it is important to keep in mind that our survey asks Californians how they would vote if the recall election were held today. The 2021 special election is most likely to occur in late fall. The public’s views on COVID and the economy could sour by then or be preempted by discontent over new crises such as wildfires or electricity blackouts.

A governor’s recall is very rare but the citizens’ initiative—a frequently used tool in California’s direct democracy process—offers clues to how voters react when asked to make major changes through the ballot box. The burden of proof is on the proponents to make the case that a “yes” vote will make things better and not worse. The history of initiatives tells us that voters are risk averse and more often choose to vote “no” as the default option. Right now, the majority of California likely voters are not in the mood to alter the status quo—but the PPIC Statewide Survey will be monitoring public opinion to see which way the political wind is blowing as this hopeful spring gives way to the summer and fall.

This research was supported with funding from the Arjay and Frances F. Miller Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the PPIC Donor Circle.

After over a year of disrupted schooling, more than eight in ten Californians believe students are falling behind academically due to the pandemic. Overwhelming majorities are also concerned that students in lower-income areas and English language learners have been especially likely to fall behind. At a virtual event last week, PPIC survey analyst Rachel Lawler presented these and other findings from our April survey and discussed key takeaways with Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Despite widespread concerns about student learning, a strong majority of public school parents (72%) approve of how their local school district is handling closures. Most adults across regions approve, from a low of 54% in Orange/San Diego Counties to 74% in Los Angeles County. Discussing this wide variation, Lawler pointed out that “the 45,000-student-strong Santa Ana Unified School District has decided . . . to finish the school year with distance learning. That could very well be impacting the results, as residents in that area see schools in LA and elsewhere across the state opening up.”

While many view their local public schools positively, for others the pandemic has highlighted ways in which public schools have come up short. Compared to two years ago, growing numbers of parents say they would choose a private school if cost and location were not an issue (35% in 2019, 42% today). “There has been an impact in terms of how people view the ability of public schools . . . to adapt and adjust to these circumstances,” Baldassare said. “And that’s given them some pause for thought about the choice of schools they would make for their children.”

Frustration with the pace of school reopenings may have helped fuel efforts to recall Governor Newsom. Yet most likely voters (58%) approve of the governor’s handling of K–12 public education. The survey was fielded before the California Secretary of State’s announcement that recall proponents had met the signature threshold needed to trigger a recall.

The status of schools in the fall could be a significant factor in the likely recall election. About six in ten Californians are concerned that schools will not be reopened for full-time in-person instruction in the fall, with Republicans more likely than independents and Democrats to express concern. “That will be another key crossroad as we go through this pandemic year,” Baldassare said.

Although Californians give mixed reviews about the accuracy of standardized tests, three in four support state testing this spring to assess the impact of the pandemic on student learning. In light of worries about learning loss, Lawler noted that these results indicate Californians’ desire for “some type of measurement and understanding of how far behind students may be” as we come out of this pandemic.

COVID-related decisions affecting California’s K–12 public schools and the economy have been among the most vexing issues faced by state officials in the past year. Has voter frustration with Governor Newsom over these two key policy arenas fueled the recall effort? Clearly, some Californians have been unhappy with his approach, and this may have aided the push for a recall. The California Secretary of State recently reported that recall proponents have met the signature threshold. But voter discontent with schools and the economy falls short of the majority needed to remove the governor from office—and reflects the hyper-partisanship in this blue state—in the most recent PPIC Statewide Survey.

The disruption of the school year and student learning has been a major issue during the pandemic. When asked about Governor Newsom’s handling of the state’s K–12 public education system, 58% of likely voters say they approve (40% disapprove) in the April PPIC survey. The governor’s K–12 approval rating was higher a year ago in the early days of the pandemic (73% April 2020 PPIC survey) but it was about the same two years ago, just a few months into his tenure (54% April 2019 PPIC Survey). Today, partisan approval differs widely (81% Democrats, 18% Republicans, 55% independents). About half or more approve across age, education, gender, income, regional, and racial/ethnic groups. In a separate question, ratings for his handling of the reopening schools are similar (59% approve, 40% disapprove).

Despite myriad COVID-related challenges to students, teachers, and families, 53% of likely voters say that the state’s K–12 public education system is generally going in the right direction (45% wrong direction). This view was higher a year ago (60% April 2020 PPIC Survey) and lower two years ago (45% April 2019 PPIC Survey). Today, 71% of Democrats, compared to 49% of independents and just 24% of Republicans say the state’s K–12 school system is going in the right direction. About half or more across age, education, gender, income, regional, and racial/ethnic groups hold this positive view.

Positive views are also evident on the economic front. When asked about Governor Newsom’s handling of jobs and the economy, 59% of likely voters say they approve (40% disapprove). The governor’s approval ratings on the economy have been similar throughout the pandemic (59% December 2020 PPIC survey, 59% July 2020 PPIC survey, 57% May 2020 PPIC survey). Today, partisan division runs deep on approval for this issue (84% Democrats, 52% independents, 17% Republicans). About half or more across age, education, gender, income, regional, and racial/ethnic groups approve of Newsom’s handling of the economy.

While the governor’s approval ratings on the economy have held steady for more than a year, this month we see a dramatic uptick in views on the economy itself. When asked about economic conditions in California, 55% of likely voters say they expect good times financially in the next 12 months (43% bad times)—up sharply from less optimistic ratings in the past year (30% December 2020 PPIC Survey, 17% July 2020 PPIC Survey, 21% April 2020 PPIC Survey). Today, 67% of Democrats, 57% of independents, and 31% of Republicans expect good economic times in California during the next 12 months. About half or more hold positive views across age, gender, regional, and racial/ethnic groups. Optimism about the economy rises as income and education levels increase.

In sum, the level of discontent with the governor’s handling of schools and the economy today are in the range of overall disapproval of the governor (42% disapprove, 53% approve) and support for the recall (40% remove him, 56% keep him) in the March PPIC Survey. This is because partisans are deeply divided and highly consistent in their approval ratings and recall support. In addition, voter registration favors one party (46% Democrat, 24% Republican, 24% no party preference). Perceptions of the COVID crisis may also influence Californians’ views about state leaders—voters said it was the top issue for the governor and legislature to work on this year in the January PPIC survey. And today, Californians are feeling more confident that COVID is getting under control—expressing less worry than last year—according to the April PPIC survey.

figure - Deep Partisan Divide in Approval of Governor Newsom's Handling of K-12 Education and Jobs/Economy

If progress containing the virus backslides before the likely fall recall election—placing the reopening of schools and the economy in jeopardy—voters’ approval of the governor and support for keeping him in office could slip. In this hyper-partisan era, voters outside of the major parties are most likely to change their minds about leaders. PPIC will keep a watchful eye on public opinion on leading indicators of political fortunes—including COVID-19, schools, and the economy—in the months ahead.

With the COVID-19 pandemic seeming to recede and a recall election looming, just over half of Californians and likely voters approve of Governor Newsom. This is essentially unchanged from January 2021, though his job approval has fallen about 11 points from its peak last May. PPIC associate survey director and senior fellow Dean Bonner presented these and other findings from the March statewide survey then discussed insights from the report with Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Signs are pointing to a recall election for Newsom as officials verify signatures. If the election were held today, four in ten likely voters would remove the governor from office, while 56% would vote to keep him. Bonner highlighted a deep partisan divide on this issue, along with a gender divide: about half of men support recall but two-thirds of women prefer that the governor stay in office.

“This is the first time we asked about the governor’s recall this year,” Baldassare said. In 2003, PPIC surveyed Californians about the recall of Governor Davis four times. “We can rely on that previous work to offer some perspective.” Baldassare provided five key takeaways on the 2021 governor’s recall in a recent blog.

In late February, Governor Newsom signed a $7.6 billion COVID relief package, which overwhelming majorities of Californians support. The relief package sends 5.7 million lower-income Californians a $600 check, and includes $2.1 billion for small businesses and $400 million for subsidized childcare.

While the relief package intends to help Californians hit hardest by the pandemic, adults are feeling less anxiety around the coronavirus. As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more available, a larger share of adults have received or plan to get it. But about 20% of adults remain reluctant. African Americans are among the mostly likely to hesitate, as are Republicans, although the share of African Americans who say they are unlikely to get the vaccine has dropped 26 percentage points since January.

“The number who are hesitant to take the vaccine didn’t change between January and March despite more of a public information campaign around the vaccine, its safety, and its availability,” Baldassare said.

On the federal level, approval of President Biden remains high, and about 70% of California likely voters strongly support Biden’s $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package. Californians are also open to Biden’s immigration reform proposal, with support across party lines for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements. And outside of older Californians, majorities would provide health care to undocumented immigrants, a reform being considered in the state legislature.

Baldassare emphasized a notable shift from 2015—the last time PPIC asked the question about undocumented immigrants and health care. While a partisan divide still exists today, likely voters support health care coverage for undocumented immigrants. “Everybody in California has faced a severe health crisis,” Baldassare said, reflecting on what may be driving the change. “There’s been a different kind of public health action around the pandemic than any of us have ever seen in a lifetime.”

Signature verification is underway in the process to recall Governor Gavin Newsom. It is widely believed that more than enough valid signatures will be found to trigger the second governor’s recall in the state’s history. In the March PPIC Statewide Survey—our first reading on public support for this effort—40% of California likely voters say they would vote yes to remove Newsom as governor. These early numbers are remarkably similar to the 38% who voted against Newsom in November 2018. Here are five key takeaways about public support for the 2021 governor’s recall, based on PPIC surveys:

The partisan divide matters. Partisans are deeply divided when asked if they would vote yes to remove the Democratic governor. Among likely voters, 79% of Republicans would vote yes compared to 15% of Democrats. Fewer than half of independents (42%) would vote yes—consistent with their Democratic leanings. This partisan divide mirrors the findings in California exit polls in the November 2018 election. Democrats currently have a large advantage over Republicans in voter registration, which explains why recall support falls well short of the majority needed to remove the governor.

figure - Partisans are Deeply Divided over the Governor’s Recall

So does Newsom’s standing. Governor Newsom’s approval rating among California likely voters is at 53% in our March survey—similar to 52% in January and 52% in February 2020. Today, 42% disapprove of the way that Newsom is handling his job as governor. How important is Newsom’s approval rating in determining support for the recall? Just 4% of those who approve of Newsom would vote yes to remove him, compared to 87% of those who disapprove of him. While Newsom’s approval rating has fallen from the record-high levels reached after COVID-19 struck, it has remained in positive territory—importantly, he consistently has a solid majority of support among Democratic likely voters.

figure - Newsom Has Consistent Majority Support among Democratic Likely Voters

The president’s coattails help. President Joe Biden’s approval rating among California likely voters currently stands at 60%. In our January and March surveys, solid majorities of California likely voters also say they favor President Biden’s policy direction on climate change, immigration, the economy, and COVID-19. Today, 38% of California likely voters disapprove of President Biden, which is comparable to the 34% who voted for Donald Trump in the November 2020 election. The Democratic president’s high standing appears to have implications for the governor’s recall. Of those who approve of Biden, 11% would vote yes to remove Newsom, compared to 85% of those who disapprove of Biden.

Improvements in pandemic trends do, too. Most California likely voters (47%) named COVID-19 as the top issue for the governor and legislature to work on in 2021, according to our January survey. In our March survey, 79% say the worst of the outbreak is behind us—a big improvement from January (59%). Moreover, 45% now say that the state government is doing an excellent or good job in vaccine distribution—a significant jump in positive perceptions since January (28%)—while 20 percent say a poor job (down from 34%). Californians’ satisfaction with the state’s COVID response—and the pace of reopening of schools and businesses—is likely to determine the fate of the 2021 recall. In sum, pandemic trends will have political impacts as well as social and economic consequences.

2021 is not 2003. The successful recall of the governor in 2003 occurred in a very different political context. Governor Gray Davis had been reelected by a 5-point margin in November 2002 (47% to 42%). Newsom was elected by a 24-point margin in November 2018 (62% to 38%). Democrats had a 9-point edge over Republicans in voter registration (44% to 35%) in 2003; today, they have a 22-point edge (46% to 24%). Moreover, seven in ten California likely voters disapproved of Gray Davis during the year of the recall (72% February 2003; 75% June 2003; 72% July 2003; 72% August 2003; 71% September 2003). And leading up to the recall election, at least half of California likely voters said they would vote to remove Davis as governor (51% June 2003, 50% July 2003; 58% August 2003, 53% September 2003). Ultimately, 55% voted to remove him in October 2003.  By contrast, fewer than half have said they disapprove of Newsom in the 13 surveys we have conducted since he took office, and today four in ten want to remove him.

The political wildcard in the 2021 governor’s recall is the replacement candidates. In 2003, 135 candidates ran to replace Davis and four of them received at least 1% of the vote. But it was the surprise entry of action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger that changed the election’s dynamics. Currently, a few candidates have indicated their desire to run in 2021 but none have the qualities of Arnold Schwarzenegger or the statewide electoral track record of Gavin Newsom. Will a charismatic leader appear who has the name recognition and sufficient resources to mount a successful statewide campaign?

The PPIC survey will be monitoring Californians’ preferences in a year when our state’s system of direct democracy will likely face its next big test—every registered voter receiving a ballot in the mail and being asked to make a choice between keeping the status quo or changing course.

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