California Poll Shows Newsom’s Support Slipping as Foes Push Recall

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s support among voters is slipping, with more saying in a new poll that they disapprove of his job performance than those who approve, as opponents continue to push a recall effort inspired by his management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Forty-six percent of registered voters said they approved of Newsom’s performance as governor, while 48% said they disapproved, with 31% of those saying they disapproved strongly, according to the poll by the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. Still, 45% of registered voters said they opposed a recall, while 36% said they favored removing Newsom from office and 19% said they were undecided.

“These results should provide a strong warning to the governor,” said Eric Schickler, co-director of the Berkeley IGS. “If the recall election does go forward, the state’s response to the pandemic needs to be seen as more successful for the governor than it is now for him to be confident of the election outcome.”

The results are a significant decline from the most recent statewide survey on Newsom’s approval ratings, conducted in November by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. In that poll, 58% of California adults said they approved of the way the governor was handling jobs and the economy. And in a September PPIC survey, 61% of respondents said they approved of his handling of the pandemic, while 58% said they approved of Newsom’s overall performance.

A new PPIC poll, released after the Berkeley survey, showed better numbers for Newsom, though still below his totals late last year. In the PPIC survey of 1,703 California residents, 52% of likely voters said they approved of the governor’s overall performance and 50% said they approved of his management of the pandemic.

“Voters recognize that this is an incredibly challenging, intensely complicated, and critically important moment for public officials worldwide,” said Dan Newman, a spokesman for the governor. “That’s why the governor remains laser focused on vaccinations, reopening, relief, and recovery.”

Once lauded

The move to recall Newsom, a 53-year-old Democrat, centers on his management of the Covid-19 pandemic. He has twice imposed stay-at-home orders and later relaxed them. Some county health officials have complained that the state’s vaccine roll-out has been chaotic, causing California to lag behind many other states in administering the shots.

Once lauded for its early success in containing the coronavirus, California is now struggling with an outbreak that has overwhelmed hospitals. Since November, California’s daily Covid-19 cases have climbed to new, much higher levels, far exceeding the previous peak from summer, and while new infections fell sharply last month, average daily deaths are still rising.

Newsom also drew widespread criticism in November for attending a group dinner party at Napa Valley’s French Laundry restaurant while urging the public to avoid such gatherings. The resulting backlash is spurring a groundswell for what would be the state’s first gubernatorial recall election in almost two decades, since former Governor Gray Davis was removed in 2003.

Recall organizers say they’ve gathered about 1.2 million of the required 1.5 million signatures to put a recall measure on the ballot. They acknowledge, however, that they’re short of the 1.9 million or more they may need to account for various disqualifications before submitting to the California Secretary of State by March 17, and so far have submitted only about 400,000 valid signatures to the state.

Recall campaigns are common in California, a state whose residents routinely circulate petitions to place policy changes directly onto ballots as propositions and initiatives. Yet such recall attempts typically fizzle for lack of funding or because organizers fail to gather enough support.

If the effort qualifies for the ballot, it would be accompanied by a separate question on who should replace Newsom if he is recalled. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, said Tuesday he planned to seek the job, and billionaire venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya, a Democrat, has also expressed interest in running.

The new Berkeley IGS poll found that 31% of registered voters rated Newsom as doing an excellent or good job in handling the pandemic overall, down from 49% in a Berkeley IGS poll last September. About 22% had a positive opinion about the job he and state government are doing in overseeing the distribution of the coronavirus vaccines to the public.

Forty-seven percent said they had a great deal or some trust in the way the governor and state government are setting the rules when issuing stay-at-home orders or setting guidelines for business to follow to slow the spread of the virus, with 62% calling them inconsistent and 53% rating them ineffective.

The Berkeley IGS Poll was conducted last week, surveying 10,357 registered voters in both English and Spanish and has a margin of error +/- 2 percentage points. The new PPIC poll was conducted from Jan. 21 to Jan. 31 and has a sampling error of +/- 3.3%.

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