Gavin Newsom’s approval rating tanks as California recall looms

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California voters are changing their minds about Gov. Gavin Newsom.

A survey of more than 10,000 registered California voters conducted by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies last week found just 46% of respondents approve of Newsom’s performance as governor, while 48% disapprove.

It’s a big shift from the sentiment last September, when 64% of voters approved of the way the governor was doing his job.

Since the last poll, the state has experienced a huge spike in coronavirus cases, leading to more strict social distancing measures, stay-at-home orders, and business shutdowns. The governor’s dinner at the French Laundry in November only further encouraged voters’ irritation.

“These results should provide a strong warning to the Governor,” said Eric Schickler, co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies. “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.”

Fueling the decline, researchers said, is the public’s much more negative assessment of the way Newsom and the state government are handling the pandemic. Here are more telling statistics from the survey:

  • 31% rate Newsom as doing an excellent or good job handing the pandemic overall, down from 49% in September.

  • 22% gave a positive rating of Newsom and state government in distributing coronavirus vaccines.

  • 47% say they have 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.

  • 62% viewed the governor’s coronavirus guidelines as inconsistent, while 60% said they were confusing and 53% said they were ineffective.

  • 45% rated Newsom’s handling of jobs and the economy as poor, up from 31% in September.

A similar poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, released hours after the Berkeley IGS survey, found that 52% of likely voters currently approve of Newsom’s performance. It’s a slightly higher figure than the one PPIC reported in January 2020, prior to the pandemic. At that time, 49% voters approved of the way Newsom was doing his job.

The governor’s peak approval was last May, according to the institute, with 64% likely voters approving.

“A majority approve of the job that Gavin Newsom is doing as governor, while opinions about him remain deeply divided between Democratic and Republican voters,” Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, said in a statement.

In a separate blog post, Baldassare said Newsom’s disapproval rating, which the institute measured at about 43%, is nowhere close to the nearly 70% disapproval ratings that plagued former Gov. Gray Davis before he was recalled in 2003. Furthermore, he noted, Newsom’s approval ratings have hit 60% twice since the pandemic started.

Organizers in the effort to recall Newsom this week reported collecting more than 1.3 million of the 1.5 million signatures needed to trigger a recall election. Volunteers have until March 17 to turn in the necessary signatures, at which point elections officials must validate them. The latest report from the Secretary of State’s office shows 410,000 signatures have been validated as of Jan 6.

On Monday, former San Diego Mayor and Republican Kevin Faulconer formally launched his campaign to replace Newsom, whether in a recall election or 2022. Republican businessman John Cox, who lost his gubernatorial bid to Newsom in 2018, has said he’d also run in a recall election.

But even if a recall effort were to qualify for the ballot, it’s not clear Californians are ready to unseat the governor. The Berkeley IGS poll shows 49% of voters think a recall would be bad for the state, with 36% saying it would be good. If a recall election were held, fewer than half of the electorate, 45%, say they would vote to retain the governor, and 36% say they would vote to remove Newsom from office.

A large portion of voters, 19%, say they are undecided about how they would vote in a recall.

Recall opinions fall sharply along partisan and ideological lines, the study found. Those who voted for Joe Biden are largely opposed to such an attempt to unseat Newsom, 70% to 9%. While those who voted for the re-election of Donald Trump are largely in favor of a recall, 85% to 6%.

Opposition to the recall is greatest among voters in San Francisco, the Bay Area and Los Angeles County, while supporters tend to come from Orange County and the Central Valley, the survey found.

Dan Newman, an adviser to the governor, pointed out that the portion of voters supporting a recall, 36%, is similar to the portion of Californians who voted for Newsom’s Republican opponent in the 2018 election, about 38%.

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

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