Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · February 2, 2021

Majority Approve of Newsom’s Job Performance and His Handling of COVID-19 Pandemic


SAN FRANCISCO, February 2, 2021—As Governor Gavin Newsom enters his third year in office, a majority approve of his performance and his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Californians are now more likely than they were last fall to say they will get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available. However, there are racial disparities in willingness to get the vaccine and concerns about getting COVID-19. In the context of federal policy, there is bipartisan support for creating a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California. (Note: As a companion piece to the new survey, PPIC today published this blog post from president and CEO Mark Baldassare: What Approval Ratings Say about Recalling Governor Newsom)

A majority (54% adults, 52% likely voters) approve of how Newsom is handling his job. Last January, before the pandemic, 51 percent of adults and 49 percent of likely voters approved. Peak approval was last May (65% adults, 64% likely voters). Views of Newsom’s performance are split along party lines, with Democrats (71%) far more likely to approve than independents (46%) and Republicans (16%).

“A majority approve of the job that Gavin Newsom is doing as governor, while opinions about him remain deeply divided between Democratic and Republican voters,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Californians say COVID-19 is the top issue for state leaders to work on this year, with 43 percent of adults and 47 percent of likely voters naming the coronavirus as the most important issue for the governor and state legislature to tackle. Relatively small shares identify other top issues: jobs and the economy (13% adults, 12% likely voters), homelessness (5% adults, 6% likely voters), housing costs and availability (4% adults, 4% likely voters), and immigration (4% adults, 3% likely voters).

A majority of adults (53%) and half of likely voters (50%) approve of how Newsom is handling the coronavirus outbreak. But the state gets low marks on distribution of the vaccine: 7 percent say the state is doing an excellent job and 29 percent say a good job, while a majority say it is doing a fair (31%) or poor (26%) job.

“More than four in ten say that COVID is the most important issue for the governor and legislature in 2021, and a majority of Californians approve of the governor’s handling of COVID,” Baldassare said. “About one in three give the state excellent or good grades for the vaccine distribution.”

More Now Say They Would Get a Vaccine, but COVID-19 Racial Disparities Persist

Two-thirds of Californians say they would definitely (43%) or probably (25%) get the vaccine when it is available to them, an increase from last October (26% definitely, 31% probably). One in four say they will probably not (11%) or definitely not (13%) get the vaccine, a decrease from October (20% probably not, 20% definitely not).

The shares saying they will either definitely or probably get the vaccine vary across racial/ethnic groups. Forty percent of African Americans say they will definitely or probably get the vaccine (up from 29% in October), while two-thirds or more say this among Asian Americans (80%, up from 70%), Latinos (74%, up from 54%), and whites (66%, up slightly from 62%).

Most Californians (58%) say the worst of the coronavirus is behind us nationally, while slightly more than a third (37%) say the worst is yet to come—similar to September (51% worst behind us, 42% worst yet to come). Still, most Californians are very concerned (25%) or somewhat concerned (35%) that they will get the coronavirus and need hospitalization—similar to September (28% very, 33% somewhat) and May (24% very, 34% somewhat). Latinos (35%) and African Americans (32%) are more likely than Asian Americans (21%) and whites (17%) to be very concerned about getting COVID-19 and requiring hospitalization. Across regions, Los Angeles residents (30%) are the most likely to be very concerned (26% Orange/San Diego, 24% Inland Empire, 20% Central Valley, 20% San Francisco Bay Area).

“Compared with the fall, more Californians now say that they would definitely or probably take the COVID vaccine. But large racial disparities are still evident in both the willingness to take the COVID vaccine and the fear of COVID illness,” Baldassare said.

One in Three Say California Is in a Serious Economic Recession

Overwhelming majorities (72% adults, 73% likely voters) say the state is in an economic recession, and about one-third (32% adults, 35% likely voters) of Californians believe the state is in a serious recession. Similar shares said the state was in a serious recession last September (31% adults, 34% likely voters) and May (34% adults, 38% likely voters). Across regions, Inland Empire residents (40%) are the most likely to say the state is in a serious recession (34% Los Angeles, 30% Orange/San Diego, 30% San Francisco Bay Area, 27% Central Valley). Among racial/ethnic groups, whites (38%) and African Americans (36%) are more likely to say this is a serious recession than Latinos (27%) and Asian Americans (23%).

Asked to assess their personal finances amid the current downturn, more than four in ten say they are in excellent (10%) or good (35%) financial shape, while a majority report being in fair (37%) or poor (16%) financial shape. But there is a huge divide across income groups. Those with annual household incomes of $80,000 or more are far more likely to report being in excellent (23%) or good (50%) financial shape than those with incomes from $40,000 to under $80,000 (7% excellent, 40% good) and those with incomes under $40,000 (3% excellent, 18% good).

“Seven in ten Californians say that the state is currently in an economic recession, while personal finances vary sharply across lower-, middle-, and higher-income groups,” Baldassare said.

Strong Majorities Approve of Biden and His Handling of the Pandemic

President Joe Biden begins his term with high levels of approval in California—though there are stark partisan differences. Strong majorities (70% adults, 65% likely voters) approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, with Democrats (89%) far more likely to approve than independents (65%) and Republicans (24%). Californians’ approval of Biden is higher than the national approval level (54%) reported in a Monmouth University survey fielded from January 21–24.

Asked about how President Biden is handling the coronavirus outbreak, an overwhelming share of Californians (71% adults, 70% likely voters) approve.

“Two in three approve of the job that Joe Biden is doing as president overall, while seven in ten approve of his handling of COVID,” Baldassare said.

Support for Giving Undocumented Immigrants a Way to Legally Remain in the US Cuts across Party Lines

Since 2017, an overwhelming majority of Californians have said that immigrants are a benefit to California. Today, 78 percent say this, a dramatic increase from the first time this question was asked in 1998 (46%). On his first day in office, President Biden announced a 100-day moratorium on deportations (the moratorium was halted by a federal judge). Asked how to handle undocumented immigrants in the US, an overwhelming majority of Californians (87% adults, 85% likely voters) say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, similar to the share since PPIC started asking this question in 2016. A solid majority across partisan lines hold this view: 96 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of independents, and 67 percent of Republicans.

“Overwhelming majorities of Californians support a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally in a rare example of policy agreement between Democrats and Republicans,” Baldassare said.

Most Consider Climate Change a Major Threat

Solid majorities of Californians (60% adults, 65% likely voters) say climate change is a major threat to the well-being of the US; perceptions were similar in January 2017 (65% adults, 60% likely voters). Views are split along partisan lines (85% Democrats, 60% independents, 22% Republicans). Residents of Los Angeles (65%) and the San Francisco Bay Area (65%) are more likely than those in Orange/San Diego (58%), the Inland Empire (54%), and the Central Valley (53%) to say climate change is a major threat. Majorities across racial/ethnic groups hold this view (67% Asian Americans, 64% Latinos, 59% whites, 55% African Americans).

“Six in ten Californians consider climate change a major threat to the well-being of the United States, and this perception is shared across racial and ethnic groups,” Baldassare said.

Majorities Are Concerned about Health Care Costs and Do Not Want Obamacare Overturned

A strong majority of Californians are either very (29%) or somewhat (37%) worried about being able to afford the cost of their health care over the next few years. This is similar to levels of concern (28% very, 38% somewhat) in May 2020, during the early days of the pandemic. Across income groups, majorities are very or somewhat worried (35% very, 41% somewhat for annual household incomes under $40,000; 28% very, 37% somewhat for incomes $40,000 to under $80,000; 22% very, 32% somewhat for incomes $80,000 or more).

Last November, the US Supreme Court heard a case challenging the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. One in three Californians (30% adults, 31% likely voters) want the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare, while solid majorities (61% adults, 64% likely voters) do not want it overturned. Most Republicans (62%) want Obamacare overturned, while most Democrats (79%) and independents (63%) want the law upheld.

“Solid majorities are worried about their health care costs and do not want the US Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare,” Baldassare said.

About the Survey

The Californians and Their Government survey is supported with funding from the Arjay and Frances F. Miller Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the PPIC Donor Circle

The findings presented above are based on responses from 1,703 California adult residents. The sampling error is ±3.3 percent for the total unweighted sample. Interviewing took place from January 21–31, 2021. For more information on methodology, see page 21.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.