Speed Reads

golden state politics

Most Californians are against recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom — but 1 number should trouble him

There's good news and bad news for California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) when it comes to his September recall election.

In May, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that 54 percent of likely voters approved of Newsom's performance, and 57 percent opposed his recall. However, those who want Newsom out of office are 15 percentage points likelier to be following the recall closely — suggesting they are the most energized and eager to hit the polls. 

In his Thursday New York Times column, Ezra Klein calls the recall "a farce," as it means "California could see a popular governor ousted not because a majority think he's failed but because they tuned out an unusual mid-cycle referendum they didn't ask for and weren't paying attention to." PPIC's Mark Baldassare agreed with Klein, telling him "it's possible you have an outcome where an electorate that's small and not representative of the public" ousts Newsom.

To trigger a recall election in California, petitioners must collect a number of valid signatures equivalent to 12 percent of the votes cast in the previous election. Over the last 108 years, only two of the 55 gubernatorial recall attempts have made it to the ballot — Democrat Gray Davis in 2003 and Newsom in 2021. Klein says it makes sense that those two recalls happened within the last 20 years, as recalling politicians is now an actual business in California — there are professional consultants and signature-gatherers at the ready across the state.

Recalls also bring out a motley crew of candidates hoping to replace the governor — the late actor Gary Coleman, comedian Leo Gallagher, publisher Arianna Huffington, adult film actress Mary Carey, and the eventual winner, action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, were all in the running in 2003. This time around, the biggest names are reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner and John Cox, a wealthy businessman who was the 2018 Republican nominee for governor; he lost to Newsom by 23.8 points.

When Newsom's political opponents collected the signatures to trigger this recall election, the state was under lockdown orders to curb the spread of COVID-19. Now,  California is emerging from the pandemic with an economy that is soaring and a budget surplus of at least $76 billion. Newsom will have to wait until September to see if this turnaround, and his supporters, are enough to keep him in Sacramento.