OAKLAND, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approval rating has plummeted as the public sours on his pandemic management, according to a new Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll that underscores the viability of a campaign to recall Newsom.
The poll found that just 46 percent of California voters approve of Newsom’s job performance — a sharp decline from the two-thirds who backed him in a September IGS poll. His declining standing tracked with growing public disaffection over Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus: the share of voters who said he is doing an excellent or good job dropped from roughly half in September to about a third, while those who faulted him for doing a poor job leaped from 28 percent to 43 percent.
Those findings put the Democratic governor in a precarious place as he confronts the possibility of a recall election fueled by anger over the governor’s pandemic response. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is formally launching his Republican campaign to challenge Newsom on Tuesday, while 2018 GOP candidate John Cox has also said he will run against Newsom should the recall qualify.
A 49 percent plurality of voters said they saw the recall qualifying as a bad development, versus 36 percent who saw it as a good thing. But if it makes the ballot, Newsom’s support is tepid: just 45 percent of voters said they would vote to retain him, with 36 percent backing removal and about a fifth of voters undecided.
Supporters of the recall have until mid-March to submit roughly 1.5 million valid signatures. They claim to have well over a million, although the most recent official state update in January suggested they had closer to 600,000 valid signatures.
A year ago, it would have been unfathomable that Newsom would face a recall in a state where Democrats have nearly a 2-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans and have won every statewide office since 2010.
Despite a small campaign war chest, the recall drive has evolved from a longshot proposition discussed only in conservative circles to a realistic threat thanks partly to mounting frustration with how Newsom has navigated virus-impeding restrictions and a nascent mass vaccination campaign.
While Newsom received glowing marks for his aggressive early actions at the pandemic’s outset, including a first-in-the-nation statewide shutdown, he has increasingly faced pushback for what detractors see as a haphazard response.
California lags behind many other states in the pace of inoculations, and the rollout of a statewide vaccination campaign has been dogged by confusion. Critics accused the governor of acting out of political expediency, rather than his oft-proclaimed commitment to public health data, when Newsom abruptly pulled the state out of a new stay-at-home order last week.
In a sign of pervasive public frustration, the top adjectives respondents used to describe California’s coronavirus guidelines were "inconsistent" and "confusing." The least popular was "well thought out."
There are growing frustrations among parents now that most of California’s public schoolchildren have been out of classrooms for nearly a year. Meanwhile, front-line workers in food industries and people with high-risk disabilities in recent weeks have questioned why Newsom hasn’t provided them a clear path to vaccines.
The governor’s fortunes turned in November when infections began to rise dramatically around the same time he revealed he had attended a dinner party at The French Laundry in the Napa Valley with lobbyists and friends. Residents criticized the governor for not adhering to his own pleas for Californians to stay home and avoid mingling with other households.
California saw its deadliest period of the pandemic in December and early January as hospitals were filled to capacity and ambulance personnel were told not to transport some patients. Infection rates have since fallen, which Newsom has attributed to residents adhering to stay-at-home orders over the previous several weeks.
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