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The Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, whose administration is facing the unusual challenge of a recall election, might very well lose his place in the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento, according to a new poll coming from The San Diego Union-Tribune and Survey USA. Despite governing one of the bluest states in the country, Newsom might very well be voted out of office and could be replaced by a Republican governor.
The survey, conducted among 1,100 Californians in early August, shows that 51% of respondents were in favor of recalling Governor Newsom, while only 42% were against it. For comparison, the same poll conducted in July found out that only 36% wanted to recall the governor, and 47% would vote for him to remain in office.
This is not the only poll that is raising the alarms in the California Democratic Party. A UC Berkely poll showed a tight race for the recall vote, with 50% of likely voters supporting Newsom, while the recall voters reached 47% of the vote intention. The same UC Berkely survey found that support of Newsom’s recall was only 36% in May.
Why is Gavin Newsom so impopular?
To put these numbers into context: California voted overwhelmingly for President Biden in 2020 (63.5%). This Democratic trend is not only visible at the presidential level but also in more low-profile elections, Democrats have had combined control of the State legislature since 1997, and the last Republican elected to the Senate was John Seymour, almost thirty years ago.
Then how is it numerically possible for the visible head of the Democratic Party in California to be losing a statewide election? Easy, while California Republicans (yes, they do exist) are extremely motivated to boot Newsom out of office, California Democrats are not that thrilled to defend their governor. According to the UC Berkely survey, 90% of Republicans are very interested in the election, while only 53% of Democrats and Independents say the same.
Newsom has governed over a state facing not only a crippling housing shortage which has led to the state having as much as 150,000 homeless citizens and also an astronomical rent cost in the state where the median cost of a single-family home is $818,260. Californians have also been suffering from constant blackouts and widespread wildfires, which has been partly responsible for the mass of native Californians leaving the state towards other states, with the census estimates showing that the Golden State will be suffering a population decrease for the first time in history.
Adding to all of these issues, Gavin Newsom’s handling of the COVID pandemic has also played a factor in the recall momentum. The governor ordered strict lockdowns and stay-at-home orders throughout the state in 2020, all while the governor had an infamous dinner party at a French restaurant with a group of close friends. The economic effects of the lockdowns have also been felt, with California ranking 46th in the country’s unemployment numbers.
When you combine all of these factors, it is easy to see why voters who tend to vote Democrat might not be too excited to go out and vote for Newsom. It is also easy to see why Republicans would line up to vote against Newsom, however, there is also another incentive for the California GOP to go and vote for the recall of Newsom: they might end up winning the governorship of one of the bluest states in the nation.
Will a Republican be the governor of Califronia?
In any normal circumstance saying that the GOP would be able to conquer the governorship of California in 2021 would be absolute lunacy, however, recall elections are the antonym of normalcy and the odd California process makes it quite possible for a Republican politician to become the 41st Governor of California.
Under California law, the recall vote is divided into two questions: should the governor be ousted, and if so, who should replace him. Voters will then have to cast two votes, a yes or no answer on the first question, and then select one of the more than 20 candidates for governor in the second ballot. If Newsom loses the first question, then whoever has the most votes in the second question replaces him as governor.
This has already happened before, in fact, the last Republican to win the governorship of California (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was elected after the successful recall vote on Democratic governor Gray Davis in 2003 after winning 48.58% of the votes in the candidate list.
Currently, there are 46 official candidates on the ballot, with only 9 of them being Democrats and 24 Republican candidates. None of the nine Democrats are well-known politicians as the California Democratic Party, as the party has instructed its supporters to leave the second question on the ballot blank as an effort to unify their message on keeping Newsom in power, the downside is that this strategy leaves the route open for a GOP candidate to become governor if Newsom is successfully recalled.
While the Republican Party has not officially endorsed any candidate in the second ballot, in order to concentrate their efforts in winning the recall in the first place, there is a healthy field of Republican candidates aspiring to succeed Newsom, including former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and talk radio host Larry Elder.
The Democrats hope that presenting a GOP governor as the alternative to Newsom’s recall would motivate enough Democrats to go to the polls and defend their governor (even if they don’t like him that much). Republicans want to keep their base unified and energized into voting Newsom out and not focusing too much on the inner squabbles between the governor candidates, although some argue that the GOP should have concentrated all its resources in one single candidate to ensure victory if Newsom is recalled.
Newsom still has decent chances of keeping his office, California is extremely blue after all and maybe Democrat voters end up coalescing behind their governor. However, if his numbers continue to worsen as the recall vote comes close, then all bets are off.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.