Gov. Gavin Newsom, show here speaking at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April, faces a recall election due to anger on the right over his handling of the pandemic, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Gov. Gavin Newsom, show here speaking at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April, faces a recall election due to anger on the right over his handling of the pandemic, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Why Gavin Newsom’s popularity could work against him in the recall election

Top pollster: ‘We’re not seeing the Democrats engaged in this election. And that may be a problem…’

Things are going so well for Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall fight, he just might be in trouble.

That’s because the only people paying attention are angry Republicans. The latest numbers from the Berkeley IGS Poll this week showed sustained anger on the right and languishing apathy on the left. The percentage of voters who support recalling Newsom (36 percent) remained unchanged since the group’s last poll, conducted in late January. The number of people who plan to vote no on the recall actually jumped four points over that same time period, hitting 49 percent.

Now, here’s the interesting part. Only 46 percent of those polled expressed high levels of interest in the recall effort. Among those voters, the early interest in removing Newsom skews heavily toward Republicans, with more than double of the GOP voters expressing high interest.

That could spell trouble for Newsom, who may perform well in political polls and job performance ratings yet fail to get out the vote on Election Day. Republicans might be the only ones who care enough to vote.

The Examiner sat down for an exclusive interview with IGS Director Mark DiCamillo this week to discuss the governor’s peculiar dilemma: Is he too popular to win?

Berkeley IGS Poll Director Mark DiCamillo, shown here at San Francisco’s University Club on May 11, 2021, says California Gov. Gavin Newsom should hold off the recall effort, but Democratic apathy could play a role. (Al Saracevic/S.F. Examiner)

Berkeley IGS Poll Director Mark DiCamillo, shown here at San Francisco’s University Club on May 11, 2021, says California Gov. Gavin Newsom should hold off the recall effort, but Democratic apathy could play a role. (Al Saracevic/S.F. Examiner)

Q: Newsom’s polling numbers look very positive for him. Is he still in any danger of being recalled?

A: Basically, we’re finding the same thing in terms of support for the recall that we found three months ago. What’s striking to me is there’s still quite a bit of undecideds, and most of that really relates to the fact that Democrats and no party preference voters really aren’t paying that much attention to this election up to now. We asked voters, “How interested are you in the recall election?” Seventy-five percent of Republicans were very interested. It was 35 percent or so of Democrats and no party preference voters. We’re not seeing the Democrats engaged in this election. And that may be a problem for Newsom as he gets closer to the election. Will he get people to vote? The turnout will be important.

Q: If you have apathetic Democratic supporters, how does Newsom galvanize his base?

A: This will be an election where all voters will be sent a mail ballot. From a campaign standpoint, that’s an advantage, because you probably can identify your supporters among all the voters and see if, indeed, they’ve sent in their mail ballot or not. You’ll keep pounding your supporters until they do. So, I suspect that that will be a strategy. With the polling, we’ll switch gears as we get closer to the election to what we would consider will be the likely electorate. As we get closer, we’ll see that interest should narrow, I would think, a bit between the Republicans and Democrats. There’s huge, huge difference right now. But we’ll see.

How about the Republicans running against him? The other part of the ballot is important. The Republicans at this stage are not really attracting a huge following, none of them. And that is true in spades with Caitlyn Jenner, which is what the national press is picking up out of this poll report. Just 6 percent of California voters, and 13 percent of Republicans, say they are inclined to support her. It’s just anemic. There’s just no constituency at this moment in time for her candidacy. Maybe that will change. It’s hard to find any segments of the voting public, other than Republicans that are in double-digits, that are even considering voting for her.

Caitlyn Jenner is running as a Republican to unseat California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Sarah Morris/Getty Images/TNS)

Caitlyn Jenner is running as a Republican to unseat California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Sarah Morris/Getty Images/TNS)

Q: Yet Jenner is grabbing all the headlines?

A: She’s the darling of the national media. But the voters here are really tuning out.

Q: Is there going to be anything else on the recall ballot that might improve the turnout?

A: As far as I know, this will be the only thing on the ballot statewide. Now, local election, there could be things that crop up—for instance, if Mayor Eric Garcetti in L.A. decides to take a posting from the Biden Administration. Apparently, he’s being talked about to be the ambassador to India. If he were to resign, and there were a special election in L.A., it’s possible they could call a special mayoral election on that same day, which could affect the turnout there. Other than that, I don’t see much else affecting the turnout.

Q: The date for the recall has not been set. What’s your prediction?

A: Late October or early November.

Protesters in Fresno work to gather signatures to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, and in support of then-President Donald Trump in July 2020. (John Walker/Sacramento Bee/TNS)

Protesters in Fresno work to gather signatures to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, and in support of then-President Donald Trump in July 2020. (John Walker/Sacramento Bee/TNS)

Q: Let’s wrap it up with a comparison to the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. Do you see any similarities in the numbers or the atmosphere?

A: Well, you can look at Newsom’s job ratings right now. A majority still approve of his performance, up from January. He’s improved his standing with voters mainly because of the way the state is kind of coming out of the pandemic. For Gray Davis, at the moment of his recall and throughout the entire recall campaign, two out of three California voters disapproved of the job he was doing. These were record-low job rating performance ratings for a sitting governor. Schwarzenegger really took advantage of that. None of the [current] Republican candidates are doing as well. The highest numbers we’re seeing? [Former San Diego Mayor Kevin] Faulconer at 22 percent and [businessman and former gubernatorial candidate John] Cox at 22 percent. They may have some opportunities if they can attract attention, but the governor has tremendous resources at his disposal. He’s passing out checks to the middle class. He’s going to do everything he can to get voters to feel good about the state and the economy by the time the election rolls around. He’s hoping the schools will reopen. With all that being said, the odds of him being recalled are fairly low.

asaracevic@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsCaliforniaPolitics

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