Majority of voters would keep Gov. Newsom, poll says

More than half of California voters would vote ‘No’ in the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to the results of a statewide poll released Tuesday — two weeks before ballots are set to be counted.

The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for The San Diego Union-Tribune, KGTV 10News in San Diego and KABC-TV in Los Angeles, said 51 percent of those asked indicated they support Newsom continuing his term; 43 percent said they would vote to remove Newsom from office.

The results come about a month after another SurveyUSA poll suggested the recall effort would succeed, with more than half of likely voters saying they would recall the sitting governor.

What changed?

SurveyUSA noted that many voters likely had their ballot in hand when the most recent survey was conducted on Aug. 26-28, which could have brought the recall effort into better focus for respondents. Also, COVID-19 case totals and hospitalizations have increased since the previous poll, a fact that may have affected survey participants as Newsom’s leading challenger, conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, has pledged to immediately repeal mask and vaccine mandates should he take office.

SurveyUSA also said in a statement that it had changed the language of a couple of its poll questions, including amending how it asked people whether they planned to vote in the recall election. The company said the way the question was phrased in the last survey might have prompted some respondents who opposed the recall to misidentify themselves as being unlikely to vote.

Although the most recent poll shows the odds in Newsom’s favor, other surveys have indicated the election could be a tight race.

For weeks, Newsom has worked to galvanize Democratic voters by pinning the recall effort on right-wing Republicans and supporters of former President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, leading Republican candidates like Elder have tried to capitalize on criticism Newsom has received over his handling of the pandemic and issues like immigration, homelessness and crime.

Should a majority of voters agree to remove Newsom from office on Sept. 14, the top vote getter among 46 candidates would become governor.

Elder, a Republican, has the highest level of support, according to the poll, at 27 percent and is the only candidate who registered in double digits.

Republican John Cox, a Rancho Santa Fe businessman who lost to Newsom in 2018, and Democrat Kevin Paffrath, a Southern California real estate broker and YouTube sensation, came in at second and third with 6 percent support.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer received 5 percent along with four other candidates, and former Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner saw 2 percent support.

Paffrath’s placement was a substantial fall from the last SurveyUSA poll, which put him at the top of the list with 27 percent support. That could stem from a change in SurveyUSA’s methodology.

When the last poll was conducted, respondents were asked to choose between seven viable candidates, of which Paffrath was the only Democrat. This time respondents were shown the full list of candidates — which includes nine Democrats — and Paffrath’s support plummeted.

For the most recent poll, SurveyUSA contacted a total of 1,250 adults. Of those, 1,046 people said they were registered to vote, and 816 said they had already returned a ballot or were likely to do so.

Of the likely and actual voters in the SurveyUSA poll, 61 percent said they plan to vote for a replacement candidate, while 28 percent said they would leave that question blank; the rest said they were undecided. Many Newsom supporters in the Democratic Party have been advising voters to leave the second question on the ballot blank instead of voting for a candidate.

Among those who said they would cast ballots to remove Newsom, a little over a quarter cited his response to the COVID-19 pandemic as their chief reason for booting him from office, 16 percent cited his budget priorities, 12 percent cited the misallocation of state unemployment payments and the same share said his attendance at a party during the lockdown cinched their recall vote.

The incumbent governor appears to have the strongest support among Latino voters; 60 percent said they would vote against the recall compared to 33 percent who support removal. Most Asian respondents also were against the recall, with 56 percent saying Newsom should remain in office and 35 saying they’d vote for his removal.

White voters were split down the middle with 48 percent for the recall and 47 percent against. Blacks’ sample size in the poll was too small to draw conclusions about their votes, SurveyUSA said.

More men than women supported the recall, with 49 percent of men saying they planned to vote Newsom out, compared to 36 percent of women.

Young voters were the only age group that reported being more likely to support the recall, with 51 percent of respondents ages 18 to 34 saying they would vote yes for the recall and 38 percent saying they would vote no. All other age groups were more likely to vote to keep Newsom in office.

Although many California governors have faced recall efforts, only former Gov. Gray Davis was successfully ousted in 2003. He was replaced by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Voter turnout at that time was 61 percent statewide and 66 percent in San Diego County.

This recall election, with most ballots being mailed to registered voters, interim San Diego County Registrar Cynthia Paes recently predicted a turnout of 70 percent in San Diego County.

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