Here's a link to an op-ed I wrote in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal on the likelihood of success of the Gavin Newsom recall effort. Let's explore the issues a little bit more below:
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
California: Wall Street Journal Op-ed and a deeper look at the Governor Gavin Newsom recall
Getting on the ballot is very doable, but Newsom has some advantages that may make this recall very different from the Gray Davis one.
California Governor has arguably the loosest recall requirements of any in the country. I run through the reasons why I believe that is true here.
Despite being a now deep-blue state (it wasn’t always so!), California is not the Democratic monolith that many seem to believe. Go back to, oh, November, and you will find out that Donald Trump got six million votes. He may have been trounced percentage-wise, but California was his top state by pure numbers. If less than a third of those six million voters sign the petition, the Newsom recall is easily getting on the ballot. That’s one piece of good news for petitioners.
The is that once a recall gets on the ballot it historically has a good chance of succeeding. 60% of recalls result in a removal, with another 5-7% resigning.
The good news for Newsom is substantial: The Davis recall took place in a much different political climate for the country, one that saw a greater willingness on the part of voters to split their ticket (The Dakotas had four Democratic Senators at the time!). More importantly, California was a much different state. In 2000, Al Gore won 53%. This year, Biden won 63%. The margin of victory has also expanded. John Kerry won by close to 10% in 2004. But Joe Biden came in with a 29% victory.
The direct comparison is even starker: Gray Davis eeked out a victory in 2002 by less than 5% -- Newsom won in 2018 by almost 24%.
Separate factor at play is a look at all three gubernatorial recall elections, which saw only a small movement in the vote for the governor between the general election victory and the recall. In 1920, North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier won office with 51%, beating Democrat James Francis Thaddeus O’Connor (who got 49%). Frazier then got 49% of the vote in the 1921 recall, losing to fellow Republican Ragnvald Nestos (who got 51%). In 2002, Gray Davis got 47 percent of the vote, beating Bill Simon (who got 42%). Third party candidates did well in this race and turnout was an all time low. Davis effectively received 44 percent of the vote in the 2003 recall. In 2010, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker received 52 percent of the vote against Democrat Tom Barrett. In the 2012 recall, he got 53 percent (also against Barrett).
Note that the California recall is a different process than the other two states. California uses an up or down vote on the official, followed by a same-day replacement race. North Dakota and Wisconsin saw a straightforward new election, which may be an advantage for the official, as they can contrast their stands with another candidate, rather than with themselves (as in California).
But the big takeaway that has to be dealt with is that Newsom would need a 12 point drop to get removed.