Now, as you’ve no doubt heard, Newsom (D) now faces a recall of his own. But he has always been a better politician than Davis (D) was, the kind of guy who decided as mayor to allow same-sex marriages in his historically gay-friendly city, losing a short-term legal fight to win a long-term political one. And since 2003, California has become a much-friendlier place for Democratic elected officials.
In other words, the odds were always against Newsom being recalled. In early March, I predicted that Newsom was better positioned to weather the ire of his constituents than then-New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) was, a prediction I mention now in part because it was, for me, unusually prescient and in part because the pattern then is the pattern now. A blue state that’s generally comfortable with how things are going is not likely to be one that casually tosses its governor from office.
Compare, for example, views of how the state is faring in the years before the 2003 and 2021 recalls, as measured by the Public Policy Institute of California. As the recall approached 18 years ago, Californians were three times as likely to say that their state was heading in the wrong direction as the right direction. In the most recent PPIC poll, conducted in May, “right direction” had an 18-point lead.
Of course, that was in May, when the coronavirus had all but vanished under the weight of widespread vaccinations. It has since rebounded nationally, including in California — prompting Newsom to endorse mask mandates for schools. Perhaps, then, he is at more risk than it might seem?
FiveThirtyEight’s rolling average of recall polling showed reason to think that might be the case a month ago. That measure suddenly showed the “keep” and “replace” positions running about even, suggesting that the race was a toss-up.
But that didn’t hold up as more polls were released. The sudden narrowing, in fact, was a function of an outlier poll from SurveyUSA, a pollster that this week released results showing “keep” with a healthy lead. As it released those new figures, the pollster explained some reasons that the early-August poll may have been so different, including changes in question wording. Regardless, the recent polling tells a different story: The recall effort is faring poorly.
The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel has been covering the race closely for his daily political newsletter, noting that Newsom has not run from the coronavirus pandemic but has, instead, leaned into it. (SurveyUSA’s list of reasons for the shift in its results includes that Newsom might have benefited from worries about the pandemic.) Cuomo’s initial, truncated effort to defend his position in the face of a damning report about his behavior toward women included an attempt to remind New Yorkers that the pandemic was still a threat — suggesting that, for both governors, the pandemic presented a leadership opportunity that was also a political asset.
Californians are voting now; the votes will be counted in two weeks. It’s hard to imagine anything so disruptive to the course of events in the state that the trend in polling gets shaken up. It’s likely, then, that Newsom will retain the office to which he was elected in 2018, leaving as the state’s only successful recall the one that occurred 18 years ago.