LOS ANGELES — With polls now showing Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom ahead by double-digit margins on the eve of California’s much-hyped recall election, voters here seem ready to reject the laissez-faire COVID-19 policies that have failed to contain huge summer surges in Republican-led states such as Florida — and vindicate the Golden State’s more careful approach to the hypercontagious Delta variant.
Their verdict could have national implications for both Democrats and Republicans heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
“No Republican running for governor could possibly have defeated Gavin Newsom in the recall election, but COVID could have,” Dan Schnur, a former spokesman for Republican former California Gov. Pete Wilson and the late GOP Sen. John McCain who teaches politics at several leading California universities, recently said on Yahoo News’ "Skullduggery" podcast. “The reason it’s not is because voters here have come to conclude that he is doing a much better job on it than they’d thought last spring and last winter.”
So if Newsom does win, Schnur added, “every smart Democratic candidate running in next year’s midterms is going to be looking to take that playbook and run it for themselves.”
The latest numbers from California paint a clear picture of where things stand — and Newsom is looking strong.
In early August, FiveThirtyEight’s average of California recall polls showed an even split between voters who wanted to keep Newsom in office and voters who wanted to remove him. But few firms were polling the race at that point, and one had just released an outlier poll showing Newsom trailing by 11 — a poll it later effectively disowned.
A few weeks of frenzied media coverage followed, fueled in part by a subsequent batch of superior surveys suggesting that revved-up recall proponents could theoretically prevail if Newsom’s far larger but less-engaged base failed to turn out.
But since then — with the emergence of right-wing Republican radio host Larry Elder as Newsom’s likeliest replacement, with the last-minute onslaught of Newsom’s own multimillion-dollar get-out-the-vote effort, and with the arrival on the ground and on the airwaves of a who’s who of national Democratic leaders, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — California Democrats appear to have shaken off their summer stupor.
Today, every polling firm that showed a close contest during the August doldrums now shows “keep Newsom” ahead of “remove Newsom” by double-digit margins. As a result, the average gap between the former (56.2 percent) and the latter (41.6 percent) has widened to nearly 15 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight. A poll released on Friday by the Los Angeles Times and the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, found that more than 60 percent of likely voters opposed the recall.
More voters say COVID is the most important issue facing the state than anything else, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.
Those numbers mirror national trends. Majorities of Americans have consistently said they approve of how Biden has handled the pandemic, according to recent Yahoo News/YouGov polling, giving him higher marks than on other issues. And an August Yahoo News/YouGov poll showed that just 41 percent of Americans blame the Biden administration for “the new surge of COVID cases in the U.S.,” versus 67 percent who blame “Americans who refuse to wear masks and take other precautions” and 66 percent who blame “unvaccinated Americans.” As a result, 56 percent say the U.S. should be lifting coronavirus restrictions more slowly “given the emergence of the Delta variant”; just 12 percent say restrictions should be lifted more quickly.
On Monday, the president — who recently announced a workplace vaccine requirement that will affect some 80 million Americans — will campaign with Newsom in Long Beach; both are likely to argue that the only way out of the pandemic is to continue taking California-style precautions and pushing vaccination.