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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — All eyes are on California as Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a potential recall tonight.
Over the summer, the election, which is only the second of its kind in the state’s history, garnered the attention of mainstream media and big-name politicians alike as all available figures seemingly indicated that the governorship of Newsom — a Democrat in one of the nation’s bluest states — could be in jeopardy.
Naturally, especially for the more optimistic among us, this begs an obvious question: should we expect the recall effort to succeed?
The short answer is an unfortunate one: probably not.
But hear me out.
A month ago, I wrote a piece on the state of the race, and outlined a few basic points highlighting what to expect. At the time, polls indicated a tight race — that isn’t the case right now. Polling aggregates consistently place Newsom’s lead in the double-digits. RealClearPolitics‘ aggregating system puts Newsom in a 15.5% lead, with FiveThirtyEight finding him ahead by a similar margin of 15.8%.
Results seen thus far from early vote returns seem to favor the governor, with Democrat ballots being returned at a 2-to-1 rate reflective of the overall voting demographics of the state.
Assuming all Democrats are voting to keep Newsom, and that there is a fifty-fifty split among independents, unprecedented in-person turnout by both Republicans and Independents would be required tomorrow in order to overcome Democrats’ lead. This could very well happen, given that Republicans are reportedly two times less likely to vote by mail than Democrats, according to a 2020 survey by The Washington Post.
Even with these numbers, an upset would be difficult to pull off. Republicans need to make up for a 16-point deficit. In comparison, the largest polling deviation of the 2020 presidential election — which was seen in Wisconsin — bore results only six points to the right of what the state’s RCP Average projected.
However, we shouldn’t rule anything out quite yet. Sarah Frostenson of FiveThirtyEight reports:
Off-year elections are always hard to poll, and in this race, the question of who will actually turn out to vote is still open. Californians have, of course, been casting ballots for days with the California firm Political Data, Inc., putting the tally of returned mail ballots as of Monday at 7,799,192 mail ballots with 52 percent cast by registered Democrats, 25 percent cast by registered Republicans and 23 percent cast by unaffiliated voters. But don’t read too much into these numbers — as Nathaniel and Geoffrey pointed out earlier today, there’s no guarantee that registered Democrats are voting against the recall (or registered Republicans for it), and in-person voters will likely be disproportionately Republican. So there could even be a “red mirage” if the final result is close. That said, it doesn’t seem as if Democrats have an enthusiasm problem at this point, meaning turnout could be relatively high for both Republicans and Democrats in this election.
California Democrats also seem to have learned an important lesson from the state’s 2003 recall: don’t split the vote.
Instead of rallying behind then-Gov. Gray Davis, Democrats ran Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in a crowded field of candidates not dissimilar to what we’re seeing now — this was done in addition to campaigning for Davis, with Bustamante acting as a self-proclaimed “insurance policy” for pro-Davis Democrats in the event of a successful recall.
Bustamante received 31.5% of the vote from those favoring the recall. Compare that result to the poll numbers averaged by internet personality Kevin Paffrath — the only Democrat to pick up any traction in this year’s recall race, who often struggles to poll outside of high single-digits — and the effect of rallying behind one candidate becomes plainly obvious.
Democrats, undoubtedly intimidated by the traction gained by the recall over the summer, have rallied behind Newsom, and polls seem to indicate that it’s been working.
So, while the recall isn’t exactly dead on arrival tomorrow night, it still seems quite unlikely to happen — which is unfortunate, given the massive amount of ground Republicans have gained since the effort was first publicized.
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