(LOS ANGELES) – As Californians head to the polls to decide whether they want to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, and if so, who to replace him with, preliminary data shows bright spots for the incumbent.
Only 3 in 10 California voters say Newsom’s pandemic control measures are too strict, contradicting a key argument in the recall campaign against him. And 6 out of 10 in preliminary exit poll results assess the Republican Party unfavorably – a challenge for those seeking to topple the incumbent Democrat.
Yet other preliminary results of the recall election exit poll are less favorable to incumbents: six in 10 voters qualify the cost of living in their region as “unmanageable” and the electorate is also divided in assessing the state economy in a positive or negative way, 49-48%.
Useful for Newsom – if it contains further data – 54% of voters in the preliminary results say it is in touch with their concerns. More, 69%, support the state’s student mask mandate. And 63% side with Newsom in seeing vaccination as a public health responsibility more than a personal choice.
More are calling the pandemic the state’s main problem than choosing one of the other four problems offered in the exit poll. Notably, only 24% say the pandemic is getting worse in the state; a plurality of voters, 39%, say it is improving, the rest saying it remains the same.
While economic discontent can be difficult for incumbents, it’s far from a repeat of Gov. Gray Davis’ recall in 2003. Next, a vast 83% rated the state’s economy negatively; as a result, 71% disapproved of Davis’ performance as governor, clearing the way for Arnold Schwarzenegger to take his seat.
Another difference – as far as it holds in later data – may be the most crucial of all: Democrats outnumber Republicans in these preliminary results by 17 percentage points, 43-26% (along with the rest of the Independents and others.) It’s more like Newsom’s 2018 election electorate as Governor, 46-23% Democratic Republican, and less like 2003, almost even 39-38%.
In another measure of partisan preferences, more voters view the Democratic Party favorably rather than negatively, from 52 to 43 percent. While a disappointing expression of support in and of itself, this compares to a largely negative view of the Republican Party, 32-63%, favorable-unfavorable.
Partly reflecting these party views, 55% of voters in this preliminary data say they would be “worried” or “scared” if Newsom were removed, falling roughly evenly between these two options. Less, 40%, would be “excited” or “optimistic”.
The exit poll calls for Newsom’s job approval rating, a result whose publication is under embargo until the polls close tonight at 8 p.m. PT. In the data available, a recent Public Policy Institute of California pre-election poll found that 53% of likely voters approved of his job in office. While slightly positive, it’s a far cry from Davis’ approval in the 2003 recall, a dismal 27%.
For his part, President Joe Biden – who campaigned with Newsom on Monday – has a 56% approval rating in those preliminary results. Biden won the state in 2020 with 63% support, compared to former President Donald Trump’s 34%. In results to date, 55% say they voted for Biden a year ago and 32% for Trump.
In contrast, 34% expressed a favorable opinion of Newsom’s main challenger, Republican Larry Elder, while 49% viewed him unfavorably. This makes Elder less attractive than Schwarzenegger 18 years ago; it had a favorable-unfavorable score of 50 to 45%.
The California recall election exit poll is being conducted with a mix of telephone interviews with early and absent voters and in-person interviews with voters on election day at a sample of polling stations today. Results so far, as noted, are preliminary and may change as more data arrives throughout the night.
While attitudes related to the pandemic may boost Newsom, so can data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California is third-lowest nationally in weekly COVID-19 per capita, tied for second-lowest death rate and one of only three states plus the District of Columbia to have any level of transmission community below a high level. Eighty-four percent of the state’s adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine, ranking it in the top 10 states nationally.
That said, the pandemic isn’t the only problem California faces. As a preliminary point, 31% cite it as the most important problem among the five proposed, compared to homelessness, 22%; the economy, 16%; forest fires, 14%; and delinquency, 8%.
Of an additional problem not included in the list of priority problems, 60% consider climate change to be a very serious problem for the state and 19% rate it as rather serious. Only 17% don’t think it’s serious.
Eighty percent of voters in these preliminary results voted before election day, mostly by mail rather than at a drop-off point. Majorities in the preliminary exit poll results say they voted by mail across partisan lines – 85% of Democrats, 72% of Independents and 62% of Republicans.
If it follows that the late campaign could not make a big difference: 87% of voters say they made their choice more than two weeks ago; in fact, 7 out of 10 say they made a decision before August.
Notably among groups, Hispanic / Latino voters made up a quarter of the turnout in these early results. This compares to 31% in the 2020 presidential election, but exceeds that group’s share of the electorate in previous midterms in data since 1994 and in the 2003 recall contest.
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