Opinion: Republicans, stop pretending the California recall isn't a partisan issue

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A sign to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom in San Diego.
A sign in San Diego. (Karen Pearlman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The proponents of the California gubernatorial recall dispute the idea that it is a Republican effort, claiming that lots of Democrats want Gov. Gavin Newsom out of a job as well.

It may be true that a significant number of Democrats signed the petition to trigger the special election (it also may not be true; petitions are not public record and anecdotes are not data), but findings from a new poll released Tuesday by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, and co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, indicate that not many of them support it now.

The poll of more than 10,000 California voters in late April and early May asked their attitudes about the recall and their assessment of Newsom's performance. It found that when it comes to removing the governor, voters are deeply split along party lines.

For example, people who describe themselves as “strongly” or “somewhat" conservative support the recall by a huge margin, 85% and 70% respectively. But among those who rank themselves as "somewhat" liberal and "strongly" liberal, enthusiasm for a recall drops to 9% and 4%. Even moderates weren't all that moderate when it comes to a recall election, with just about one-third saying they supported it.

You can also follow that trend line geographically, as well. In the deeply Democratic and densely populated regions of Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area, only about a quarter of people polled said they would vote to dump Newsom.

(It’s worth noting that Los Angeles County contributed more signatures to the recall effort — 264,495 — than another other county, by far. That’s not out of line with its size. Nearly 1 million of the 5.8 million voters in this county are registered Republican.)

Conversely, conservative strongholds such as the rural mountain areas and north coast regions would remove Newsom from office today if it were up to them, the poll found.

But it is not. The population centers of Southern California and the Bay Area largely decide who leads the state, which is why there are periodic, if quixotic, secession efforts by the more rural and conservative regions of the state.

The partisan nature of recall support bodes well for Newsom's chances. Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 2 to 1 in California. But he ought to be concerned that about the one-quarter of Democrats who said they either support the recall (8%) or are still on the fence (17%) and the 55% of voters without political affiliation who feel the same.

He’s got about six months to convince them to stick with him. And even then Newsom would have to run again, in 2022, for a second full term.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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